Of course the Parent Imperfect was excited when he heard that Connie’s school was holding a celebration this past Wednesday to officially open its “extreme library makeover” to the school community and the public. The Target Corporation, in collaboration with the Heart of America Foundation, has developed a program to provide “struggling libraries” with grants to remodel library space and acquire books, computers and other materials to support efforts to improve the schools in which the libraries sit.
The PI adores libraries, but the Target part of the package was a bit of a challenge for him. He and Liz had been avoiding shopping at this particular big box since they learned of Target’s apparent generous support to a Republican congressional candidate holding pretty extreme anti-gay views. They gave it some thought and decided that Connie’s (and their own) enthusiasm for anything to help the school library over-ruled their hesitation about the sponsor.
Public school libraries have suffered as budgets have tightened. The Hernandez laid off its librarian when Vince was in second or third grade (5 or 6 years ago), and the library has since become more of a meeting and storage space, dependent on the volunteer energy of parents. Even Vince’s school, which certainly has the best library in the BPS library system, has had to cut librarian hours to the point that the library closes very soon after school dismissal and can no longer serve as a place for students to congregate and do their homework together. The Hennigan had a library and a part-time librarian last year, but budgets for new books and educational equipment have long since vanished. Over the years, the library had lost a large amount of its space to various office additions. which made the space that much less inviting or attractive.
Liz and the PI received their first “robo” call from the school to promote this event, which was to begin with the obligatory ribbon-cutting, featuring the Superintendent of Schools and representatives of Target and Heart of America. Only a few selected parents and students were invited to that photo opportunity, but all were invited to show up at 4PM for the official opening of the new library. The PI was excited to go see the new library and hear someone from the school talk to the community about the importance of a school library and how this one would be used.
Liz, Connie and the PI arrived, just at 4PM, to a school that was alive with excitement. The PI had never seen so many students and parents around after school hours. The courtyard had been turned into a sea of red (Target’s logo color) as students had been asked to wear red and Target had brought along at least 200 “Target Volunteers” dressed in company red for the event (who were these people?). Volunteers showed them to a table where they registered by grade level. Claudia received a big red badge that hung around her neck and the PI was given a red rubber wrist band to show that he was part of the show.
From there, the three of them stood in various lines for the next hour. Maintenance staff had given the school a spit shine, and the volunteers had placed the Target bulls-eye everywhere. The word “Target” was not that visible, but the bulls-eyes were on the floors and the walls, all over the volunteers and on every sign welcoming people to the event. Translucent bulls-eyes even graced the glass topping the walls that allowed light into the windowless library. Even if he never shops at Target again, the PI will think of this event every time he sees that logo for the next many years.
The first line wound its way through the school and led Liz, the PI and Connie into the library. The large room had been transformed into a bright, colorful and inviting space, complete with two thousand new books, furniture and equipment. A round table with eight iPads drew the biggest crowd by far. Gone were the impinging offices, with their ugly backs turned to library users. The librarian had created a “before and after” photo display to remind everyone just what a miracle had been wrought.
After spending a few minutes in the makeover, the PI and family joined the next line waiting to receive a red and white Heart of America canvas bag containing some parent information and seven brand new paperback books. Someone who knows about children’s books chose different books for each grade level, and Connie’s bag included the first book in the Harry Potter series and several others of interest to her. As she waited for the books, one of the volunteers engaged very directly with Connie, asking her what she is reading right now and what have been her favorite books.
After the book distribution, the line continued into the school cafeteria, which had been transformed into “The Food Pantry.” There, more volunteers waited to give each family about 40 pounds of food for each child they had in the school. Liz had paid attention to the event info enough to know that this was coming, but the PI was taken off guard by this part of the show. Something about waiting in line to be given food presented a challenge to the PI and he abandoned ship to wait outside for Liz and Connie. After about ten minutes, they emerged with bags full of frozen chicken, pancake mix, apple juice, soup, crackers, granola bars, fruit, canned vegetables and other goodies. As in the case of the books, care had been given to the nutritional choices represented by the food distributed. The PI’s snarky remark about this being a strange way to celebrate a library, brought Liz’s suggestion that this might have been a very important part of the event to some of the families present.
It wasn’t until they were standing outside that the PI realized that this was it. They had to get home before the chicken thawed. There would be no speech thanking the company and inspiring parents and children to make use of this amazing gift. There would be no announcement of a new “read at home, read at school” program encouraging parents to read to their children at home and to come into the library at some specified times to read to children there. For the PI, an important opportunity had been passed over, but another one had certainly been taken.