O’Fallon Library Story Walk uses love of the outdoors to boost literacy

The O’Fallon Public Library is using the great outdoors to boost literacy with a new Story Walk installation at Thoman Park.

A Story Walk is a fun, educational activity that displays pages from an illustrated children’s book along a community walking route, whether it’s at a park, library campus or nature trail. As you stroll down a path, you can view the next page set in a kiosk.

Thoman Park is located at 1021 Nancy Drive, and is near the library, which is at 120 Civic Plaza, next to the U.S. Post Office. The trail is one-third of a mile.

This new project is the result of the library collaborating with the O’Fallon Parks and Recreation Department and donations from the Friends of the O’Fallon Public Library.

Library Director Ryan Johnson explained this next step is part of the staff’s efforts to make library services extend beyond the walls of the building.

“This is a pilot program at this park, and we’d love to do it elsewhere, so we’ll assess how it’s received and maybe expand to other parks. Hopefully, we can get something at the Community Park as they go through their renovation process. These kiosks are flexible. They can go anywhere,” she said.

Story Walks have been installed in 50 states and 13 countries, with one nearby in Fairview Heights’ Moody Park.

The book currently on display in 20 visual-page kiosks at the park (and two at the library) is “When Spring Comes,” a 2018 picture storybook written by author Kevin Henkes and illustrated by painter Laura Dronzek. It is about how the world transforms when nature does its ‘spring thing.’

The juvenile fiction was selected by Youth Services Librarian Teri Rankin, and she created the questions at each stand.

For instance, she asks young readers: “What is another name for the Cardinal?” “How many bunnies and birds do you see in the picture?” “Why is the snowman melting?” “What is your favorite flower?” and “What’s your favorite fruit or vegetable?” among others.

“She asked the questions to engage the kids. This is especially good for toddlers and preschool age children to get them to interact with others,” Johnson said.

And she quotes poet William Wordsworth: “… And then my heart with pleasure fills, And dances with the daffodils.”

Johnson said the plan is to change the books seasonally.

“We wanted to see if they would get sun-bleached and fade away. They seem to be holding up OK. The only issue has been the birds,” he said. Droppings land on the stands.

The goal is to spark a love of reading, Johnson said. Perhaps they will reach people who aren’t regular card holders at the library, he noted.

It also brings people to the park to encourage physical fitness and to appreciate art, for several art installations are in Thoman Park.

“Who doesn’t love to be outside? It’s like reading on your back porch or at the beach. We’re bringing both these worlds together,” he said. “This is a win-win all around. It’s an opportunity for connecting.”

This is a way for children to interact with other humans that are walking with them, whether it’s parents, grandparents, babysitters, or neighbors, he said.

The height of the kiosks make them accessible to children in strollers as well as pre-school age and other pupils.

The library has also placed two kiosks to give directions to their nearby building, whether someone wants to walk or drive, and youth services programs, such as The Lego Club, Chess Club, book clubs, teen events, and preschool and baby classes.

During the pandemic, the library expanded its digital resources, like databases and eBooks, which can be accessed from home. They also started a Homebound Delivery Service to get items to those in the community who cannot easily visit their location.

For more information about the library, visit their website, https://ofpl.info/.

They are also on social media: https://www.facebook.com/ofallonlibrary.