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Cultivating kids interest in books at the library

Kids and their parents enjoyed Musically Minded: Music for Preschoolers on Jan. 13. Sarah Hansen / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 2
Youth Services Coordinator Megan Seeland at the Red Wing Public Library. Sarah Hansen / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 2

Program attendance and circulation at the Red Wing Public Library experienced a record high in 2017.

Circulation was up 3.1 percent over 2016, partly thanks to an increase in children's programming which brought out 53.8 percent more attendees to the library and resulted in more materials being checked out.

Children's and teen services librarian Megan Seeland said that, in developing programming for young people, she looks for ways to engage kids where they're at, letting their schedules and interests help guide programming decisions. Likewise, when a program doesn't work out, she's willing to let it go.

When a teen book club had low attendance and engagement, for example, Seeland replaced it with a teen writing program which has really taken off.

"I think the big thing is just sharing stories with kids," she said. "I've known some of them since they were babies and now they're starting to read, they've got their own library card. It's just really a magic thing to grow up and love stories and then to start to read stories and then to start to make up their own stories. It's a neat thing to watch them do those things."

Seeland has been with the Red Wing Public Library since 2013. She said that the library's most popular children's programming involves animals or live music. Tickets for the annual American Girl Tea Party are often gone in the first 45 minutes, as well, but the library still has free tickets available for another well-loved event: the upcoming Harry Potter Book Night happening at 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 1.

"Libraries aren't just quiet sacred halls of study anymore, they're community centers," she said.

In 2018, the library is hoping to engage the community further by planning events outside its downtown location. Kids are limited by how far they can travel, Seeland explained, and first on her wish list would be having more staff able to carry programming across the city, closer to where kids live.

Right now, Seeland is in the thick of planning activities for summer. When the kids are out of school in June, July and August, she said, they're reading more books. However, this time of year, just after the holidays, library attendance overall is slow; fewer people visit after sundown and cold temperatures keep most patrons indoors.

Seeland keeps equally busy with children's programming and collection management. She reads hundreds of books each year, including every picture book and junior nonfiction and biography book ordered by the library.

"Usually I read about 100 middle grade and YA novels (a year)," she said. "And maybe one to two grown-up books. So hundreds and hundreds of books."

She manages all the collections, age birth to 18, and also orders comics, manga and graphic novels for library users of all ages. Currently, the Red Wing Public Library has the largest collection of manga in the Southeastern Libraries Cooperating system which includes collections in Rochester, Winona, Northfield, Red Wing, Faribault and Austin.

"It's so important to not just teach your child how to read, but to give them a world that is full of stories and full of books and full of music (because they're all full of stories)," Seeland said. "Fill your child's life with stories and it's going to lead to their success in every other aspect of their life."

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