By Jillian Risberg
This summer the Florham Park Public Library treated students from five to nine years old with a pen-pal program created especially for them.
According to youth services librarian Kate Dinneny, it was suggested by a former colleague, Kate Mahoney, who she recognized for reaching out and coming up with the idea — as it fit with the summer theme of togetherness and community – and thanked their ‘tween’ participants for writing such fun letters.
“It’s a unique opportunity for this age group to connect with others their age as well as practice their writing skills over the summer,” Dinneny says. “By connecting our tweens here in NJ with those out in Colorado we’re expanding that community across the nation and allowing the kids to connect with peers who are both similar and different, not only in their reading interests, but in life experiences as well.”
There was no special formula or plan to match the kids with their pen-pals. The youth services librarian says the tweens at the Englewood Public Library in Englewood Colorado wrote first and addressed their letters simply to “pen-pal.”
“Once I received them, I tried to match them with our tweens based on age and similar interests,” she says. “We actually had a few more participants here than Colorado so one or two got multiple letters, we even had a sibling team respond to one letter together.”
Dinneny hopes the students had fun connecting with the other readers as well as making the little friendship gifts they included.
“Our friends in Englewood (CO) included friendship bracelets with their letters so we responded by making Morse Code keychains that spell out READ using different colored beads,” she says. “It was the hope of Ms. Mahoney and myself that a little gift would be a nice surprise and encouragement to include with the letters.”
Writing letters by hand, not using email or social media is a bit of a dying art, Dinneny says.
“So I also hope that we possibly sparked an interest in returning to the ‘old ways’ of communication these students may appreciate as they grow up,” says the youth services librarian.
Each year the Collaborative Summer Library Program provides a nationwide concept that libraries can use to run their summer reading programs.
This year’s All Together Now is focused on building community, supporting each other, accepting each other and working together.
“While each library does things a little differently, the national theme unites us under a common idea for that summer,” the youth services librarian says.
Florham Park’s program is also sponsored by the Garden Club, Recreation Department and local Day Camp that donated prizes and incentives for the kids to earn as they counted the number of days they read this summer.
Dinneny says they had their best summer ever.
“Surpassed our pre-pandemic numbers with a total of over 300 readers,” she added. “I would expect that they’ll continue into the school year with a fun story to share and possibly a new friend across the country.”