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There's no 'shushing happening here'

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By Linda Ireland

 February is “I Love My Library” and “Library Lovers’ Month.” The Herald News is featuring different staff and services each week this month.

The second floor of the LaRue County Public Library is a world unto itself. Murals and posters adorn the walls. Child-size chairs and tables encourage patrons to sit a spell. Some days, the sounds of songs fill the air. Other days the rhythmic telling of tales pulls listeners into the stories. There’s another area set aside just for teens.

This world belongs, in part, to Katie (Hornback) Wheatley and Liz Whitlock. Wheatley is the Youth Service librarian at the LaRue County Public Library, and Whitlock is the Assistant Youth Service librarian.

For Wheatley, 25, the library has always been a favorite place.

“I have lots of memories of Miss Kathy,” she said, referring to Kathy Crawford, who was the children’s librarian several years ago. “I loved coming to the library.”

Growing up in Hodgenville, she regularly participated in library programs and read a lot. Just over two years ago, she was hired as the teen librarian.

“When I first started, we didn’t have many teens coming for any of our programs,” she said. “Now we have a lot. They’re pumped to be the center of our focus.”

Shortly after joining the staff, Wheatley realized the teen budget was limited. She applied for and got a $1,000 grant from Walmart.

The grant money and the expansion of programming for the children and youth led to “a full upstairs renovation” and the creation of Teen Space.

As she has added to the offerings for the young adults, there is more interest and re-sponse from them.

“They feel their voice is finally being heard,” Wheatley said. “We are offering things they said they are interested in, from programs to books to special activities.”

There’s the after-school anime club, the teen book club, Game Day for teens and ’tweens, movie and pizza day and the teen volunteer group.

Teens participating in the volunteer pro-gram can earn comm-

unity service hours necessary for some clubs, such as Beta.

“It’s a good oppor-tunity for them to help out,” Wheatley said.

Where Wheatley connects with the teens and ’tweens, Whitlock has found her footing with the younger patrons. She leads the Toddler Tales and Storytime programs and guides the Kidz Club. She also facilitates the homeschoolers group that meets twice a month.

Whitlock, 32, of Mount Sherman, has been with the library for a year. Her career path is as varied as the book choices. She was a medical assistant, then spent 12 years working at a family lumberyard. In addition to her time at the library, she is pursuing a degree in Early Childhood Education at Elizabethtown Community and Technical College. She plans to transfer to Campbellsville University in the fall to complete requirements to be a developmental interventionist, working with children experiencing some type of developmental delay.

“I enjoy working with the younger kids,” she said. “Storytime and Toddler Tales are really fun for me. I click with the younger kids.”

She credits a teacher she had at Hodgenville Elementary with encouraging her love of books.

“Janice Bertram made a big impact on me,” she said. From her teacher’s encouragement and example, she connected with the library. “I used to think how amazing it would be to be around books all day long.”

She works to build similar connections with her young patrons.

“We focus on literacy, but we also touch on fine motor skills, growth and social skills,” she said. “We also work on listening and sharing and other things kids need as part of their socialization.”

Toddler Time is geared for children age 18 months to age 3. “There’s more music and it’s more interactive,” Whitlock said. “Our programs are 20 minutes or less, in keeping with their attention span, and we do a lot of finger plays, rhythm and movement, song and dance. We read one or two simple books.”

Storytime is designed for pre-schoolers, ages 4-5, and features short stories, physical act-ivities, music and fun. The mix is working: more children are attending regularly.

Another draw: two new KidComputer units, loaded with educational software, color-coded for ease of use and sized for little users.

“Kids can’t mess these up,” Wheatley said.

Whitlock added: “Everything is child friendly. The mouse is small; the keyboard is colored-coded to aid with typing skills. The children have com-pletely taken to them.”

Specific software programs are targeted for infants, toddlers, pre-K and grade-school level.

“The toddlers know how to use them, to put the headphones on,” Whitlock said. “They’re learning and don’t even have a clue.”

Wheatley and Whitlock are in the planning stages for the annual summer reading program, an event that gets a large turnout. This week’s main event will run for one week. And while definite plans haven’t been completely finalized, the theme is “Dig Into Reading.”

Wheatley said with a laugh: “We’re going to get our hands dirty.”

There will also be the annual Teddy Bear Picnic and program with Kentucky Down Under.

Both librarians are enthusiastic about their young visitors, the ongoing activities and programs that may be added for teen, ’tweens and younger readers.

If you venture into the second-floor area of the library, you will encounter music and laughter, occasionally some jumping, spinning and dancing. You will see a lot of smiles.

“We don’t ever say ‘shush’ in here,” Wheatley said.