PHILADELPHIA, PA On Wednesday, February 4, the Penn Libraries launched the “A Book A Day” program as a partnership between the Libraries, the Henry C. Lea Elementary School and Penn Alexander School to support early education in West Philadelphia. Through the program, each of these elementary schools receives two quality, hardcover books each week that reflect the schools’ curricula.
“Finding ways to interact with and support the community that surrounds Penn is of great importance to me, to my colleagues at the Penn Libraries and to Penn as a whole,” said Carton Rogers, Vice Provost and Director of the Penn Libraries, during the launch event. “Our goal is to broaden community engagement through new partnerships to impact the community in positive ways.”
“A Book A Day” was conceived by the Penn Libraries’ Will Noel, Director of the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts and of the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies; Ancil George, Community Outreach Librarian; and Sibylla Benatova, Conservation Technician in the Kislak Center, who recognized that many teachers and administrators were struggling to find books in their school libraries that were timely and that supported their curricular goals. By the end of calendar year 2015, this collaborative effort will have provided over 100 much-needed new books to the Lea School and Penn Alexander libraries.
“At its very core, this project is about initiating a dialogue between the educators and community partners of West Philadelphia to ensure that every child in this neighborhood has the resources they need to pursue their educational dreams, whatever they may be,” said Rogers.
The Penn Libraries made steps toward this commitment last spring with the appointment of Ancil George as the inaugural Community Outreach Librarian. In his new role, George works to assess the needs of these libraries and contribute to their programming in positive ways. Since his appointment, George has partnered with volunteers and teachers in Philadelphia to support children’s access to books and increase literacy levels. He also initiated the Penn Libraries’ recent gift of nine computers and an electronic book circulation system for the Lea School library to promote access to library books as well as digital literacy.
Future efforts to expand initiatives through the Penn Libraries Philadelphia Public School Partnership are being supported in part through the generosity of David J. Leibman, C’82, and his wife, Julie Kantrowitz Leibman, who have set up a seed fund for projects under the direction of the Penn Libraries that will provide for the needs of West Philadelphia schoolchildren. The Leibman family has a long history of support of the Penn Libraries’ primary mission to provide access to information for the Penn scholarly community. The family is equally passionate about equipping individual schoolchildren with the tools they need to be successful learners throughout their lifetimes. With their support, George is able to jump-start a number of initiatives, from providing immediate financial support to existing school programs to creating an endowed fund for the expansion of the program in experimental, innovative ways.
The Leibman Seed Fund for Key Initiatives of the Penn Libraries Philadelphia Public School Partnership, “A Book A Day,” and other efforts coordinated by the Penn Libraries all strive to help increase reading and writing skills among schoolchildren in response to overwhelming evidence that shows correlations between the presence of a school library and library personnel and literacy development, particularly for at-risk children for whom reading ability at the end of third grade is a key predictor of dropout risk.
Judging from the reactions of a class of Lea School kindergarteners present for the “A Book A Day” launch, these efforts serve as a strong beginning in answer to great need.