Niles District Library, Niles History Center debut story walk

NILES – The colorful illustrations, characters, sound effects and anticipation of turning the page to reveal a new scene are all earmarks of children’s story time in a classroom or the library. The daily tradition at the Niles District Library has been missed by many families due to the COVID-19 pandemic over the last year.

Over the weekend, the library hosted its first “story walk.” The story walk featured “Do Unto Otters: A Book about Manners,” by Laurie Keller, a Michigan-based author. Attendees could walk to signs placed in the grass, spaced out on the grounds of the library to look at the illustrations and read each page of the book on their journey down the sidewalks.

Tara Hunsberger, youth services team leader with the Niles District Library, misses the regular times each week she used to have each week to connect with the children in the community. Prior to COVID-19, there were multiple story times throughout each day available to attend. The creation of the story walk is one way to re-engage with the area’s children and bring stories back to them safely.

“It’s an exciting new project,” Hunsberger said. “We are trying to adapt to the crazy COVID-ness as best we can, while still providing the same services to our patrons.”

The story walk was created through a partnership between the Niles History Center, 508 E. Main St., and the Niles District Library, 620 E. Main St. While the library has been able to reopen and offer limited services and activities to patrons, the Niles History Center has remained closed throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

“[Niles History Center Director] Christina Arseneau and I wrote for a grant for the Berrien Community Foundation to do an outdoor learning experience,” Hunsberger said. “We wanted to have an option that was socially distanced and safe, but still provide programming. The story walk is part of that, and part of the grant is doing local history exhibits that they would do.”

The organizations were awarded a grant through the foundation for the initiative.

The neighboring organizations usually host school field trips regularly throughout the year to present literature and local history to students of many grade levels. The limits on gatherings, in addition to precautions from schools and from the organizations themselves, have halted regularly scheduled programming for more than a year now. Arseneau and Hunsberger created the story walk model to be used in multiple ways to benefit both the history center and library.

“[The story walk] can travel. We can go to local parks. We can bring the exhibits and story walks to schools. We can take it to the river and the exhibits can change depending on what is going on and what the needs are,” Hunsberger said. “It’s exciting. It’s a diverse exhibit that we have, and it can be what it needs to be.”

Associated with the grant was the purchase of materials to create the story walk — the signs with interchangeable windows for new pages of books or photos and captions of exhibits. The library also purchased books from the Michigan Reads program, which highlights picture books by Michigan authors. Lesson plans and activities accompany the books from the program.

The Niles District Library is working on its offerings inside the facility, as well as outside. Hunsberger said the library recently hosted its first story time in about a year. The story times require registration with limited spacing, and will be offered every two weeks.

In the meantime, Hunsberger hopes to have another story walk available for the community soon.

Details on upcoming events can be found at NilesLibrary.com/calendar.

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