New Imagination Libraries are sprouting up all over Alaska, but it’s not a case of spontaneous germination. Just as every community is different, every Imagination Library begins in its own way. But it always comes down to a few people – Local Champions – who make it happen.
Look at Dillingham. Shannon Clouse lives in Dillingham, but she’s the main organizer for the Koliganek Imagination Library. While Clouse offered to help, Dillingham needed its own local champion, the live wire who takes the lead. The possibility simmered for several months, various people started conversations, and it percolated along. Sonja Marx, the public librarian; the Friends of the Library; the Mayor; Lois Schumacher of Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation – all were part of the conversation. Eventually, Robyn Chaney took up the mantle as chairperson, the Curyung Tribal Council stepped forward, and Dillingham Imagination Library was born.
Tribal Councils have been the starting point for quite a few of the Imagination Libraries: in Brevig Mission, Unalakleet, and Nanwalek. In Seward, it began with the community’s spirited and successful effort to build a monumental playground. When that was done, they looked around for a new challenge to conquer.
Sometimes, Imagination Libraries begin with school districts that want to make sure their kindergartners show up ready to learn. That’s how Nome, Unalaska, and Koliganek got their start. In Fairbanks, school district folks reached out and brought the rest of the community on. In the Lower Yukon School District, Kindergarten Specialist Janet Stone has been going village to village, helping the communities submit their proposals for Imagination Library. So far, Mountain Village and Emmonak are getting on board, but the Lower Yukon isn’t done yet.
Early childhood professionals are the muscle behind many of Alaska’s Imagination Libraries. Hoonah, the state’s first Imagination Library, is a Parents as Teachers endeavor. AEYC Southeast started with Juneau, added Wrangell, then Craig, Klawock, Angoon, and Kake, and now they’re fairly marching across Southeast.
In Tok and Tanacross, Carrie Beeman started with a few Head Start moms. Slowly, Imagination Library picked up more and more fans – from Northway, Tetlin, Eagle, Mentasta Lake, and now, Dot Lake and Border. That’s what happened in Mat-Su, too: the mother-daughter team of Linda and Katie Conover started with Meadow Lakes, moved on to Wasilla, Palmer, and Big Lake. Now, it’s the whole Mat-Su. And on the North Slope, what began with the Friends of Tuzzy Library in Barrow is now in every village in the Borough.
When the Kuskokwim Education Foundation realized not enough students were coming down the pipeline for their college scholarships, they decided to start at the very beginning. By enrolling children in Imagination Library, they could improve school success down the line, so they’re in the process of signing up all their villages. Aniak, Upper and Lower Kalskag, and Stony River are already operating. Old Harbor Scholarship Foundation came to the same conclusion, resulting in Old Harbor Imagination Library.
The first Imagination Library to come through a Best Beginnings Early Childhood Partnership, Families First, is in Homer. Anchorage started with a committee and organization launched by former First Lady Deborah Bonito, and then morphed into an Imagination Library.
What does it take to start an Imagination Library? Simply find five or six people to do the basic volunteer jobs – enrollment, database, post office liaison, parent engagement, evaluation, and fund raising – and call Best Beginnings at 297-3300. Laura Cisneros will walk you through the process and work out seed funding, too. What’s stopping you?