Last Tuesday, Laura Sarge sat down in her usual chair at the Centre County Library and read a bedtime story to approximately 262 children. Or possibly a large cluster of adults without Netflix. A Facebook livestream doesn't provide an exact demographic breakdown but context clues — she was reading "Goodnight Moon" and not a Tom Clancy novel — would tend to suggest a younger-skewing audience.
The set up was simple— Sarge, a couple of books and a cell phone held by the library's communications and outreach coordinator, Julie Valora.
"We have not done too many livestreams at the library. In fact, this was my first livestream ever... I was a little nervous. It's kind of funny because I don't think I have ever been nervous to offer a story time in the 8 years that I have worked at the library," Sarge said.
Lower back pain trumps nerves. On Thursday, Connie Schroeder and a couple dozen volunteers from the AAUW (American Association of University Women) trucked 400 boxes worth of children's stories from a nondescript building in Boalsburg to the Snider Agricultural Arena, where — after a standard unpack and stack — they comprised approximately 10 percent of the AAUW's annual book sale inventory.
It's a record for the AAUW, a boon to the kids and probably a moral victory for flocks of liberated empty nesters who are busy Googling how to turn their once hopelessly cluttered attics into a rumpus room — but the elevator pitch is that kids are being read to (in bulk).
A study compiled by Scholastic found that 66 percent of parents with children ages 0-5 were reading more than one book during story time. Another 77 percent said that they considered the read-aloud portion of the week to be special time with their child.
"You can sit down and hold the book together, you turn the pages together and people need that," Amy Wilson, executive director of the Mid-State Literacy Council, said.
Her organization works with adults and those who need help developing their communication skills, whether it's basic literacy or English as a Second Language. Basically she's pro-reading.
Wilson identified syntax, vocabulary and the ability to tell as well as listen to a story as among the treasure trove of skills that can be plucked from the pages of a book. Think of that big red dog as a Trojan horse filled with useful life tools instead of angry men with swords.
"It has great impact on school success," Wilson said.
When she's reading to the tykes at Centre County Library, Sarge builds in pauses for the kids to discuss their reactions to various plot points or offer comments on the illustrations. If something like the Facebook livestream were to be attempted again, she would like to figure out a way to incorporate more room for that kind of parent-child interaction between the folks watching at home.
Sarge doesn't think it makes any difference whether kids are flipping through paperbacks, scrolling down tablets, or watching a cellphone video starring their friendly neighborhood librarian.
"I fully support the use of digital stories alongside printed materials; after all we are raising the 'Touchscreen Generation.' I do not think that printed materials (are) in any way in danger of becoming extinct due to digital access," Sarge said.
Which brings us back to Connie Schroeder and her 400 boxes of priced-to-move children's books. Personally, she can't picture a grandparent cozying up to the kids with an iPad and a strong wireless signal.
"You just love to see a kid with a book on their lap," Schroeder said.
AAUW's used book sale will run Saturday- Tuesday in the Snider Agricultural Arena.