Stetson Library Campaign Gathers Student Momentum

Allan Appel PhotoIf each of the 950 students at James Hillhouse High School puts just a quarter in the three wooden boxes fashioned by the young carpenters in wood shop, that would add up to more than $200 for books, technology, data bases, and furniture for the new Stetson Library.

The money, however, is only part of the point.

“You’re in high school now,” Stetson Librarian Diane Brown told students assembled for a special library event. “But in six years, you walk into the new Stetson and you say, ‘I gave a quarter for this,’ with pride. For me it’s about the community taking ownership.”

Brown —-  who has for years run the Stetson branch on Dixwell Avenue — made that comment on Monday, which was official Stetson Day at all the high schools in the city. The event called attention to efforts to raise money for a new home for Stetson in a two-story building adjacent to the soon-to-be-rebuilt Dixwell Q House across the street.

Under the leadership of former Hillhouse history teacher and librarian Robert Gibson, all the city high school student councils have deployed their own plans to help fund the community-wide campaign, which goes by the name “Stetson Library: The Next Chapter.” Hillhouse’s idea was to launch what they called a “penny drive” with the wooden boxes

Since the Dixwell Community Q House closed in 2003, the 100-year old branch library has evolved into a library cum community center.

The total budget for the library portion of the Q House project is $9.2 million, with $5.3 paid for through state bonding, one million from a state library grant, $900,000 from city capital funding.

All those funds cover design, construction, collections and some technology. But that leaves $2 million, which is the campaign goal, to cover furniture and fixtures, books and e-books, databases and other technology.

One of the three campaign chairs, Elsie Chapman, said the campaign is going great guns, with about $1.4 million raised so far.

When Gibson, who taught at Hillhouse for 35 years, brought the idea of high school kids to the committee, they were all in.

As Brown pointed out, including high schoolers in the campaign was less about the money than about community buy-in and investment, underscoring the already tight relationship especially between area kids and their branch library.

“I grew up here,” said Darrell Brown, a 2009 Hillhouse grad who is now studying to be a teacher and works as a student liaison at the school. “I grew up here. We didn’t always have Internet. The Stetson LIbrary was the place where we got that.”

And a lot more: like test prep, college guidance, and mentoring of all kinds.

“It’s a refuge,” said Althea Norcott, another of the campaign committee co-chairs, who also happens to be a now-retired 31-year teacher and assistant principal at Hillhouse. Norcott was Darrell Brown’s counselor at the school, and has inspired him to follow in her footsteps.

Brown coordinated with Hillhouse student Makayla Dawkins, who is also one of the student reps to the Board of Education, and with Ti’Juana Gibson, the school’s student council president, as they developed the penny drive to support the new Stetson.

The boxes are being placed in classrooms, the cafeteria, and of course the library.

Virtual Library

These kids already know that a modern library is far more than a depository for books and even media. Especially in the case of Stetson, it is a community and cultural center. It is also the only place that many parents allow their children to go after school.

“They graduate, they go out into the world, then they come back, they bring their children with them. We don’t realize some of the impact,” Brown said with a tear or two visible.

Taking out a note pad, Brown asked these high school leaders what they would like to see in the new Stetson.

“We’d like the library to be more virtual,” said Ti’Juana. She suggested having more programs and a help-desk librarian available to be contacted by the students on their phones to help with school work, college applications, and job searches.

Makayla Dawkins endorsed the new technology being planned for the library” so we can use it on our phones.” She had an old-fashioned suggestion as well.

“How about creating a teen book club?” she asked, turning to Brown

“Why don’t you do it?” Brown replied

“It’s boring to read a book alone,” said Makayla.

Brown explained that the library has had a longtime adult book group and lots of reading activities for little kids, but “I don’t have a teen book club. I’m going to come to get you!”

At least 100 kids perform some of the 50 hours of community service required for graduation at Stetson, noted Hillhouse Principal Glen Worthy. He called Stetson practically an adjunct of the high school.

Elsie Chapman said the Seedlings Foundation has donated a community challenge grant of $250,000; it will match one to one any contribution from $50 to $10,000.

For more information, to contribute, and find out about other events, such as a March 25 benefit jazz concert at the Elks Club,  go to the campaign’s site.

Construction of the new Q House and Stetson Library is expected to begin in the spring and take 12 to 18 months.

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