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Small Nebraska library takes innovative approach

Posted: April 13, 2014 - 6:23pm

OXFORD, Neb. — The kids come in their PJ’s. They curl up with stuffed toys and munch on popcorn. And, while their parents are watching a grown-ups’ movie at the Granada Theater next door, youngsters at the Oxford Public Library are enjoying a G-rated kid-friendly movie on their own big screen, helping the library fulfill its mission to be a vital, vibrant educational, entertainment and social hub of the community.

“We’ve done movie night all winter. It has become very popular,” says library director Danielle Burns, who has, with her teen board, board of directors and “Friends of the Library,” created other new programs and activities that are keeping the public library in residents’ minds and hearts.

“The library has lots of support and lots of volunteer time and talent from the community,” Danielle said. “My patrons are an enormous help. This keeps the library vital for the community.”

Help with homework after school is part of the library’s new “strategic plan” developed this year, and retired teacher Jan Anderson volunteered to help by offering tutoring. “It’s free to the students, and has been very successful,” Danielle said.

Danielle has transformed a corner of the library into a homework and reading center, and Southern Valley High School senior and artist Ashley Grossnicklaus is designing and painting wall murals — one, a stack of books, and another the “Hobbit” ‘’Smaug” dragon.

The Oxford Thrift Shop donated $500 to help with the creation of the tutoring corner. The community’s Oxford Foundation provided funds for an XBox game system and television. The library also has a variety of DVDs available for check-out.

“We feel very fortunate that we have so much support from the community,” Danielle said.

The library’s computer center was funded with a grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce Broadband Technology Opportunities Program “BTOP” program (designated to expand public libraries’ broadband capacity and upgrade public computing resources in libraries) and from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “We got nine computers with web cams, desks and chairs,” Danielle said. “The kids can do their homework online here and send it to the school.”

With a child at each computer in the computer center one recent afternoon after school, Danielle said the library is kid friendly. “We know all our kids by name. They’re comfortable here,” she said.

The library is a “No Bullying” zone as well. “They have to follow the rules and be courteous. It’s a safe environment,” Danielle said. “We have no problems. This is a great group of kids.” The computers are also available to adults. “We have a lady doing her ancestry research,” Danielle said. “She has learned how to use a computer, and comes in every day.”

The library maintains a “book request” book in which many adults suggest books they would like to see on the library shelves. “So far, I have been able to fulfill all requests and stay within budget,” Danielle said.

To further involve young readers in the library, Danielle has created a five-member board of teens who are freshmen through seniors in high school. The board makes suggestions and recommendations of books of particular interest to teens and kids, and helps set up and clean up on Movie Night. “They’re very, very helpful,” she said. “And it helps them feel useful and part of the library.”

There are so many teens who use the library, it was difficult to select board members. “I looked for teens who read a lot, and are interested in more than just the computers in the library,” said Danielle, who found she had to limit the board to five students.

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