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Beyond the Books: Community at the Pine Hills Library

November 16, 2010

by Wade Abbott

Pine Hills Library (Wade Abbott)

The Pine Hills branch of the Albany Public Library has stacks of books ready for checkout by helpful librarians.  Yet it is the diverse activities, including movies, story times, crafts, and even a colored pencil workshop, that bring a community flavor to the library.

The colored pencil workshop, led by Kate Peterson, meets for the third time Wednesday at noon.  Peterson is a graphic designer who wanted to volunteer at the library, perhaps by shelving books.  “I’m a big fan of giving back to the community in which I live in,” said Peterson.  She was surprised when the library, after reviewing her resume, asked her to lead an arts workshop instead.

Julie Lundgren frequently walks to the library to borrow books and videos.  The colored pencil workshop was the first library-sponsored activity she attended.  Lundgren and six other participants practiced their colored pencil blending techniques using a variety of still life props during a session Nov. 10.  “This is incredible, to have a free class available to everyone,” said Lundgren, while she added more color to her depiction of an orange.

Early on a recent Saturday afternoon, Julia Pinto-Martin, a youth services librarian, was in constant motion while she prepared one of the library’s community rooms for a showing of “Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.”  After welcoming six families with popcorn donated by the nearby Madison Theater, Pinto-Martin started the movie and rushed across the hall to a second community room.

There, a smaller group called the Frequent Fibers Club, awaited her.  Five or six women meet every other week to knit or crochet.  Their next meeting is Saturday, Nov. 27 at 2 p.m.  Pinto-Martin pulled a knitting project out of a bag and joined in conversations interspersed with the clicking of knitting needles.  The participants admired and commented on each other’s projects.  “That feeling of creativity is encouraged by Miss Julia [Pinto-Martin],” said Julia Olimpo, a retired nurse living in Albany.

Despite claiming that it is difficult to teach knitting because she is left-handed, Pinto-Martin patiently provided knitting tips to Marcia Hill, a newcomer to the group.  Hill, a brand-new Albany resident, joined the group after hearing about it from a librarian while she checked out a book on knitting.

Toddler story time and family craft time are weekly activities that contrast with the quieter conversational tone of the Frequent Fibers Club.  They are very popular, drawing between 50 and 80 participants.  Tuesday’s 10:30 a.m. story time is led by Christina Stenson-Carey, a youth services librarian with 11 years of experience.  Children sit on blue mats in the larger community room with their parents or grandparents behind them.  Stenson-Carey plays a guitar, sings songs, reads stories, and uses a felt board to grab the attention of children and adults alike.  Story time “brings literacy and songs and music into people’s lives,” said Stenson-Carey.  A Thursday story time is led by Pinto-Martin, also at 10:30 am.

Parents value the time spent with their children in the library.  “It’s a good variety of people.  You get good stories, good music,” said Matt Yaeger, a stay-at-home father who brings his 22-month-old son every week.  “It’s a safe place.”

One Albany resident who lives closer to Delmar than the Pine Hills neighborhood makes frequent trips to the library branch.  Donna Cunningham said that her 2-year-old is a big fan of story time, especially the songs.  “My daughter sings then all the way home in the car, all the songs that she learned,” said Cunningham.

Craft time immediately follows story time.  Last Tuesday, adults supervised their children as they colored mitten-shaped pieces of construction paper and glued strings to connect them into pairs.  After craft time many of the families move to the children’s section of the library. It’s an area with puzzles, blocks, and, of course, books.  Children play with each other as parents stand around watching and conversing.

The opportunity to interact is as important to the parents as it is fun for the children.  “I’ve met a lot of my friends here,” said Pilar Geracitano, a stay-at-home mother who tries to bring her daughter to the library weekly.

Other activities at the library include computer classes, teen Wii nights, and a multicultural book club.  Patrons can keep up with the schedule via the library’s online calendar, and they can sign up online for e-mail updates provided by Stephanie Simon, the library system’s public information officer.  -30-

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