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Orange County Public Library will expand its reach with new grant money

The Orange County Public Library received a $50,000 grant to expand access to libraries and books for children in northern and western rural Orange County.

The Orange County Public Library received a $50,000 grant to expand access to libraries and books for children in northern and western rural Orange County.

"We have been wanting to grow outreach as a library so that we're reaching more kids,” said Stephanie Knop, a children’s outreach specialist at the Orange County Public Library.

The project is funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act as administered by the State Library of North Carolina.

Knop spearheaded the program by applying for the grant in the fall of last year. She plans to work closely with Central Elementary, Pathways Elementary and Efland-Cheeks Global Elementary.

"Those schools are all kind of in the Hillsborough area or northern Orange (county) where there are not as much services," Knop said. "(There is) not as much access to public transportation out there, the kids in those areas have a higher concentration of poverty, and there is underrepresented groups out there that do not have access and they’re not already coming to the library. They’re not able to get to some of the things that are in Chapel Hill so we wanted to take some services out to them."

Knop will work with each school to identify the individual needs of the students and parents in an attempt to provide flexible and specialized help.

The program is not exclusive to the schools in northern Orange County. Knop is also coordinating programs with local community centers to expand the access of books to children who may not be able to get to the library.

“We are also working with Efland-Cheeks Community Center and Cedar Grove Community Center to bring books out to the community through a program called the boxmobile which allows kids to check out books at the community center,” Knop said. 

Places like Cedar Grove Community Center have already begun enrichment programs for reading and wellness that the grant will supplement.

"We have increased the donations with those books, we have increased our reading time, we also brought in a teacher doing a summer program from Orange County Schools who works with them with reading and language arts,” Sue Florence, director of Cedar Grove Community Center, said. 

Cedar Grove Community Center has previously worked on initiatives to help young students from the northern areas of Orange County and shares the mission of the programs provided by the grant.

"We have looked at each year creating a program to involve the children in the northern end in experiences and cultures they don’t have the opportunity to have as frequently as the children in the inner city,” Florence said.

To receive the grant, the application of the Orange County Public Library not only demonstrated a clear connection with one of the three main goals of the state library program, but a genuine understanding of the needs of the community as well.

“There are three broad goals for the five year plan, one is strengthening capacity: that North Carolinians will have libraries with essential resources and capable staff that enable them to provide exceptional library programs and services," said North Carolina State Librarian Timothy Owens. 

"The second goal is expanding access: North Carolinians will have expanded access to resources for learning and success in school, work, and life. And that’s the category that this grant applied under," Owens said. "And then our third goal is community engagement: North Carolinians have libraries that are more effective because they cooperate, coordinate, collaborate, and communicate to help the community address its needs.” 

The Orange County Public Library was one of 48 applicants that received money out of a pool of 62. This year, North Carolina awarded over $2.3 million in grants to state libraries.

Knop believes this is only the beginning of her program, as she would like to add two more schools and more community centers to the project. She would also like to open up a southern branch so that the program may span across the entire county.

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