The class of sixth-grade Barclay students paraded into the school's library and either found a seat or plopped down on the floor. When all the students were settled, a library volunteer addressed the group and posed a question.
"So," she said. "Can anyone tell me why we read?"
Several students quickly raised their hands.
"To learn about things," one student said.
"To gather information," another uttered.
The volunteer nodded and agreed with each reply but said there was still one reason they were missing. There was a brief moment of silence before another student offered the two words the volunteer was looking for.
"For fun," the student said.
"Yes. That's it," the volunteer said. "For fun."
The volunteer was happy to hear that response, happier still even to have the opportunity to be in this library and discuss reading with these students in the first place. Several years ago this moment would not have been possible.
In 1994, the Barclay School library was at a low point. The school, located on the corner of 29th and Barclay streets, had lost its funding for a full-time librarian and could no longer afford to keep the library open to its students. Even when the library was open, its book collection contained many worn and faded volumes, some with pages missing, and was decidedly outdated--the library's most recent book on space exploration, for instance, was published in 1960.
Alarmed by the recent events and the effect the library's closing would have on the student population, Barclay's then principal, Gertrude Williams, made an outreach effort to members of the local community, including Hopkins, to help rejuvenate the school's library. Led by Holly Sunshine, wife of Eugene Sunshine, then university senior vice president for administration, the Hopkins Woman's Club answered Williams' call for assistance.
Membership in the Hopkins Woman's Club, which was founded in 1930, is open to current and retired female faculty, senior staff, administration and trustees and to the wives of men in those positions.
Sunshine, who was president of the Woman's Club, was able to organize a small group from the club's community service group to staff the library and read to groups of students. The library still was opened only on a limited basis as there were too few volunteers, so, in order to reach more students, Sunshine decided the volunteers' time would be better served by bringing carts of books from the library directly into the classroom. Once there, volunteers could read aloud from selected volumes and could lend the books to students for outside reading.
The group, however, soon realized how limited was the collection of books they had to choose from and began to solicit family, friends and the community for donations of used books. Volunteers also would purchase new books as needed with their own money.
By drips and drabs, and on a very limited budget, the Woman's Club volunteers have steadily increased and updated the Barclay library's collection. In just the past two years, the group was responsible for collecting 2,200 new paperbacks, 400 new fiction titles, 471 nonfiction titles, two encyclopedias (the encyclopedias are 1999 editions) and 43 reference books. For its part, the Barclay School has purchased new window shades, tables and chairs for the library. And, as of October, volunteers now are able to bring classes of students back into the library so they can peruse the whole book collection, not just what volunteers can fit on a cart.
Wendy Brody, wife of university President William R. Brody and a member of the Hopkins Woman's Club, has been volunteering her time at Barclay School for roughly four years. Brody says thanks to the efforts of Woman's Club members, the library has undergone a tremendous transformation, and Barclay's students are rediscovering the joys of reading.
"I would say that almost half the books on the shelves now are ones that we brought in the last three years," Brody says. "And to be able to have these kids come into the library is just wonderful. Now, for instance, they can come in and ask if we have any books on horses, and they'll go to the shelf and find maybe six books on horses. They are just amazed. And most of these books have nothing to do with what they are doing in class--it's just reading for fun."
Esther Bonnet, the Woman's Club member who has been volunteering her time at Barclay the longest, says it's the difference between night and day comparing the current library to its state five years ago.
"It's really exciting," Bonnet says. "And the students' enthusiasm has been tremendous."
Brody says the club's 15 volunteers, who come in anywhere from once every other week to three days a week, are still only able to open the library to students on a limited basis. In order to service the entire school population, Brody says that more volunteers are needed. She adds that if anyone would like to volunteer her time at the library, she can contact Bonnet at 410-467-7048, or Lynn Jones at 410-661-8007. Books to be donated can be taken to the receptionist at the President's Office in Garland Hall on the Homewood campus.
Brody says the benefits of donating one's time to these young students is hard to quantify.
"Some of these kids are very good readers, but for some of them, you would be absolutely amazed at just how below grade level they are," Brody says. "I volunteer at the library one day a week, and I feel that if I don't do anything else that week, by doing this I might have made a difference in someone's life."