BAYFIELD – The Pine River Library uses creative cost-cutting to bring its interactive, space-themed summer reading program to Bayfield.
The library kicked off its six-week STREAM program with a party on May 31. The program blends reading, art and space-themed STEM programming for everyone from infants to adults, just in time for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing.
Still with financial challenges lingering since 2017, librarians had to make some creative cost-cutting decisions this summer – while trying to make the program stronger in the process.
“People talk a lot about the summer slide,” said Darcy Poletti Harp, PR and programming librarian. “We believe that the library should be more holistic than that. It’s about reading, but it’s also just about interacting on lots of different levels.”
The program’s theme, “Universe of Stories,” comes from the Collaborative Summer Library Program, a national system of libraries which was formed in 1987 as a grassroots effort in part to prevent the “summer slide.” This slide, or summer learning loss, accounts for two-thirds of the ninth grade achievement gap in reading between students from low-income households and their higher-income peers, according to the Colorado Department of Education.
The Pine River Library’s no-cost program features a summer-long bingo game with prizes, rocket science experiments, astronaut training and robotics youth events as well as book clubs and art instruction opportunities for adults, according to the library website.
“When you talk about the kind of emotional impact that, not even just summer reading, but programs in general, have, I think it’s almost immeasurable,” said Becky Van Den Berg, youth services manager, “because these kids have no other outlet. They have nowhere else to go.”
At the launch party, the Gerrits family sat at a picnic table ready to learn about the program – and to enjoy the free food and activities, said Dana Gerrits, a Bayfield resident, as the smell of hot dogs wafted through the air and kids lined up for balloon animals.
“I’m really excited about the yoga and watercolor class,” Gerrits said. While she was excited about the adult programs, she was already finding activities for her five kids. “I know they’re really going to love the robotics classes. Then there’s things for the teens to do, which is great because it gets them out of their bedrooms.”
The library has cut its summer reading programming budget by about 47% as a result of a drop in funding which occurred after a shift in the oil and gas market in 2017, according to Director Shelley Walchak.
For Children’s Services Manager Kate Brunner, these cuts meant fewer hours to create programs and chasing down recycled supplies to use in her material-heavy children’s programming. Van Den Berg said her challenge was creating programs complex enough for teens using a tight budget.
“It just forces you to find different opportunities to fill the gaps that you can’t fill because you can’t offer people money anymore,” Van Den Berg said. To her, it’s a chance to do some creative problem-solving.
Instead of expensive entertainers, the library will host cheaper programs, like an intergalactic family dance party and build-your-own rockets day.
An employee with a forensics degree from Fort Lewis College is running a forensics crime-solving day. Also, Pine River and several other libraries split the cost to bring science groups, Mad Science and Science Matters, down from the Front Range.
“We’re being really inventive and not spending as much money, and being as responsible as we can,” Walchak said.
For the Gerrits kids, this year’s programs seem “cooler” than entertainers, and for the parents, the STEM, reading and art combination is an exciting mix.
“Our kids are really very artsy and then also very into engineering and science and all those things,” Dana Gerrits said. “I think their theme this year is really great.”