The Friends of WRL Approve Six New Grants to Expand Library Programs

Part of what makes Williamsburg Regional Library such an exceptional resource to users is the support it gets from individuals and groups within the community, and one such group is the Friends of Williamsburg Regional Library. This all-volunteer organization is dedicated to promoting interest in our library, sponsoring programs for the community, and providing funds to enrich our collections.

The Friends of Williamsburg Regional Library Board met on December 6 and approved six grants that will expand and extend many of the programs and collections offered by WRL. These grants including funding for four existing programs as well as two initiatives that are new to the library.

The largest of the grants was $16,000 awarded to the School Author Visits program. This initiative takes children's authors into Williamsburg-James City County elementary and middle schools to talk to students about the importance of reading, writing, perseverance, and following their dreams. The program aims to bring two authors to at least four local schools every year, and this grant will cover the expenses for the 2018 author visits.

The Friends board also approved a grant of $6,250 to renew WRL's Freegal streaming music license for fiscal year 2018. This license allows all library cardholders to listen to three hours of ad-free music from the entire Sony Music collection every day. Since the library introduced this service in July users have streamed over 7,800 songs each month.

The next grant approved targets one of the library's most popular offerings, our Gab Bag collection. Gab Bags, which are intended for use by reading groups within the community, feature multiple copies of the same title as well as questions and supplementary material to stimulate thoughtful discussion. Over the course of 14 years we have accumulated 214 Gab Bag titles, which until now has not included any leadership, management, or other business topic-related titles. Recognizing the value these kits could have to local government executive teams, human resources divisions in businesses throughout the community, and professional groups in general, the Friends approved a grant of $3,500 to fund the development of leadership-themed Gab Bags.

A more recent initiative that also received support from the Friends is our use of the Beanstack Online Reading Program, for which the library received $3,200 to renew our license for fiscal year 2018. Beanstack was introduced this past summer as part of our revamped Summer Reading Program. Since then we have also used it for Fall and Winter Reading Programs as well. The service allows readers to log their titles online and earn fun, seasonally-themed badges as they watch their progress grow. Beanstack also sends users reading suggestions based on the titles they have already logged. This program has been well-received by WRL users, and library staff are excited about the opportunity to continue to offer it in the coming year.

In addition to funding these existing programs and initiatives, the Friends also designated funds to allow the library to try two new programs based on the past success of some of our regular events. The first of these is the Preschool Stay & STEM program, which is a variation on our popular baby and toddler Stay & Play events. These unstructured play times, which take place after our baby and toddler storytimes, support children's early literacy development by providing age-appropriate toys for the children to use. The Stay & STEM program will build on the success of that initiative by offering a science, technology, engineering, and math-themed playtime after our preschool storytimes in order to foster problem-solving and critical thinking from a young age. The $3,000 grant will allow library staff to purchase both the toys and the necessary cabinets and bins to store them in.

The other new program, Gaming @ the Library, builds on the success of previous library events like International Games Day and Anime Con. The video game tournaments held during those events, in which over 200 children and teens participated this past year, served the vital purpose of bringing numerous new users into the library and offering an outlet for those users to develop social and critical thinking skills in a diverse community of other kids, tweens, and teens. This $2,000 grant from the Friends will allow the library to purchase its own consoles and games so that we can expand these types of offerings going forward.

"Funding from the Friends helps the library provide a margin of excellence in the collections and programs we offer our community," said Interim Director Janet Crowther.

Williamsburg Regional Library consists of the James City County Library, the Stryker Center, and the Williamsburg Library and serves more than 85,000 people in the City of Williamsburg, James City County, and York County.

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