By MADDY VITALE
Ocean City Free Public Library (OCFPL) staff members searched for ways to entertain, educate and enlighten their patrons, despite having to limit hours and cancel all in-house programs due to the pandemic.
When they chose a program for families to enjoy outside, keeping reading at the forefront, called StoryWalk, they hoped, but weren’t certain, it would be a success, explained OCFPL Director Karen Mahar.
Fast forward a few months and StoryWalk, which began in October, is hugely popular among children and adults. The reading program, held on various days and times each month, allows for social distancing and brings patrons together, safely outside at Lake Memorial Park, 407 Wesley Ave.
“It’s a great way to keep people active and outside during these COVID times, while books are at the forefront,” Mahar noted in an interview Wednesday. “We have gotten such great feedback from families. Now, they really want to know when the next program is.”
To date, more than 300 families have attended the program since it began in the fall. In addition to reading a book while strolling in the park, children enjoy scavenger hunts and prizes.
The program has been so well-received by the community that Mahar recently asked the city to allow the library to put up permanent structures that could handle inclement weather better than the temporary holders they have for the books now.
“Since it is in a city park, we have to put in an application for permanent structures,” Mahar explained.
She said city officials, including Daniel Kelcher, who is the director of the Community Services Department, are supportive of the idea.
“Dan said he loves the idea. It still has to go through all of the channels,” Mahar said about getting official approval to be able to install permanent structures.
Currently, the library is using wooden posts with laminated pages of the books selected for each StoryWalk.
“We are seeing the water is starting to get in between the pages,” Mahar noted. “You could see the wear and tear already. A permanent structure could be a frame made of some material that doesn’t rust.”
Mahar said the library staff discussed ideas where the book could be enclosed in glass and read more easily because it would be positioned on an angle, rather than upright. It would be low enough for kids to read easily and handicap-accessible.
OCFPL Children’s Librarian Taimi Kelley enjoys the program as much as the children she helps to entertain and educate with the walks.
The proof that the program is successful is based on “all of the positive feedback we have received from the community,” Kelley said.
“StoryWalk has provided families with an opportunity to enjoy the reading experience in a fun and unique way during this time of social distancing,” she noted. “I’m looking forward to sharing more books through our StoryWalk, even when life returns to normal.”
StoryWalk continues through this month. The next one is scheduled for noon this Thursday.
There will be a month off in February.
Mahar said she hopes new structures could be installed in the park before the program starts back up again in March.
The StoryWalk Project was created by Anne Ferguson in Montpelier, Vt., and developed in collaboration with the Kellogg-Hubbard Library.
Here are some recent comments sent to the library from families who participated in StoryWalk since it began in Ocean City.
“Thank you so very much! This was awesome! We loved the story and it was a great activity during COVID! Thank you for the fun and family adventure! Signed, The Richter family, Jodi, Dan, Max and Violet.”
Another family wrote, “You’re the best! We loved this and would love to do more at this park and other locations around the island!! Thank you! So much fun!! Kids loved looking for the characters!”
For more information, visit the Ocean City Free Public Library at www.oceancitylibrary.org.