- Associated Press - Sunday, July 19, 2015

FREMONT, Neb. (AP) - Keene Memorial Library Children’s Librarian Laura England-Biggs’ office is hidden away, off the main storage room and into the back recesses of the library.

Visitors entering it should bring their sense of humor and love of absurdity and be prepared for a visual overload from the objects they see arrayed, the Fremont Tribune (https://bit.ly/1fnjCdD ) reported.

It’s full of fun, reflecting the personality of its occupant. A life-size stuffed toy Gollum, the pathetic character from the movie “Lord of the Rings,” is draped from a bookshelf. A bright yellow Minion wreath decorates the door. A life-size head- and-shoulders portrait of Andrew Carnegie is propped again the wall on the top shelf of one of the bookcases.

Something for everyone, child and adult, but mostly for child.

There are the usual posters and the small room boasts three walls of books. The place is magical.

England-Biggs personal history and family stories might illustrate how she was born to be a children’s librarian. Her mother was a U.S. Navy nurse and her father rose to the rank of lieutenant-colonel in the U.S. Air Force. England-Biggs and her twin brother called it a “mixed marriage.” (Officers in the Navy and Air Force) After her Navy career, her mother became a librarian.

“We lived in Florida when Dad went to Vietnam,” she said. “Dad did all the overseas stuff.”

In doing all the overseas stuff connected with a military career, “Dad” did something remarkable.

“When Dad was overseas in Guam, he would go to base library and check out a kid’s book. Then he’d sit on the beach and read those books onto a tape recorder. He would write the name of the book on a tape and then send it home. Mom would go to the local library and check out the same book and we’d read it with Dad. On the other side of the tape, he’d talk to us about things mom had written to him, what was going on in our lives with friends and school. I don’t know how they knew how to do this. They were so young. He took a lot of grief about sitting on a beach reading kids’ books instead of out carousing with his buddies,” said England-Biggs.

England-Biggs’ job is to manage a staff and keep children’s programs relevant, fun and challenging for preschoolers through fifth grade.

During the school year, there are programs for preschoolers during the week as well as Saturday morning programs. There are books written in Spanish for kids and adults at the library.

“I do a lot of books that are bilingual so that non-English speaking parents can read to their children and non-Spanish speaking or non-Spanish reading children can follow the story in English printed on the same page or on the opposing page. Spanish-speaking parents who are not literate in Spanish can read children’s books. The Latino people love the library,” she said.

The summer is filled with library opportunities for children. It gears up at the end of the school year and lasts until mid-July. When official summer reading activities are over through the end of July, story times remain as do teen gaming, Legos and toddler times.

In August, “we keep on keeping on.”

A group of children from the English Language Learners summer session visit the library regularly and pick out a book to take home with them.

“There is something going on every day,” said England-Biggs.

There are regularly scheduled programs during the day every day of the week. And they are fun. There is the Science of Sound where they look at different scientific experiments like speaking into paper cups. What’s the science behind the game? Monday is entertainment with a magician, Mrs. Science or other child-friendly person.

There are programs for all ages, babies to fifth-graders. Children who participate in the Summer Lunch Program at The Presbyterian Church of Fremont also are treated to a story time twice each day while at the church for lunch. Fifty to 80 Fremont children take advantage of the lunch program.

Another innovative program is Teen-Tween Gaming. Game boards are set up as well as computer games. Kids can come in and play video games like Pokémon with each other. The library serves popcorn and Crystal Lite to the gamers. After closing, there are movies to watch such as “Alice in Wonderland,” ”A Bug’s Life” and “The Wizard of Oz.”

“Wee Rhythm is another fun activity for 2- to 5-year-olds.

“We read a book and then make an instrument out of recycled material,” she said. “At the end of each session the children say, ‘Dru um” from the book Drum City. Then there is a Lego party for kids ages 3 to 10 years old where they can come into the library and build whatever they want whether by themselves or cooperatively with another person or a small group.

“We’ve always had weekly summer classes. A couple of the changes we have made are that we make sure that every one reads a book. We always make sure the activities are book-centered and a book is actually read to the kids. We used to give out prizes for books read during the summer program. I purchased trinkets . until I got fed up with that and I went to the Scholastic Warehouse and picked up books I thought they’d like to read. We give a book rather than a trinket.”

England-Biggs oversees a staff of three: Miss Jess, Miss Keri and Miss Susan.

“The “Miss” is a children’s librarian thing. I will always be Miss Laura,” she said.

Miss Jess is Jess Hill, assistant children’s librarian and Keri Taylor and Susan Allen are part-time library aides.

England-Biggs comes with a degree in library science. She is responsible for the children’s books purchased by the library. The sources she uses for selection can be found in trade advertising, professional journals and sometimes, requests from patrons. The hot books right now are Jurassic-themed, reflecting popularity of the new movie. She is married and lives with her husband in Omaha.

“My brother and I taught ourselves to read when we were 4. Dad didn’t believe us when we told him that we could read. He thought we were reading a book we had been read to my mother over and over until we memorized it. Mom gave us a book to read that we’d never seen before and then he believed us,” remembers England-Biggs.

It’s a story of a long life reader who brings the love of reading and the joy of books to her position. England-Biggs has been at the library for 10 years, and for the last three years has held the position of youth services librarian.

“It’s the best job in the world,” she said. “It really is.”


Information from: Fremont Tribune, https://www.fremontneb.com

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