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Library offers educational kits for kids and adults

by MONTE TURNER
Mineral Independent | January 31, 2024 12:00 AM

Public libraries were almost handed a death sentence when the internet came to be, but they adapted, expanded with innovative ideas, and remain a vital service in communities.

Creative ideas and resources now incorporate the place when you went and checked out boxes. Different classes are part of the library’s infrastructure these days plus art shows, lectures and demonstrations along with more hands-on activities for the young ones.

Of the estimated 122,566 U.S. libraries, more than 9,000 are public libraries and some 99,000 are school libraries. Most public libraries (85%) are connected to some form of government as is the Mineral County Public Library. 

“The library has 9.5 mills at a total value of $13,490 estimated revenue,” shared County Treasurer Merry Mueller. “That comes from county taxpayers at a rate of approximately $13 per year for every $100,000 in value of their home.”

Debbie ‘Deb’ Kelsey has been an assistant librarian at the MCPL since 2019, but she has been associated with the facility for around 10 years. 

“Before the iPhone became popular and kids started carrying them in their pockets, we would have them in here gaming, which was limited to an hour. Now, we never see them as they have their own phones they carry and use for games,” she said. 

Kelsey said that the programs they offer which attract mothers, their children are in the building which are mostly home-schooled kids. But in the spring when students are preparing their thesis’s, they come and check out the classics and research Montana history. How do you build traffic into an organization that many still see as a place that loans books?

“I was looking online for homeschooling ideas on our computer and Ravalli County (Public Library) had some ‘kits’, so I called to find out more. They were study-kits for students to check out and take home. One was a Human Kit which had a little skeleton in it. They could take it home and study it and the different parts of the human body with the resource material it contained. It was a great idea for us and that was the genesis of our program,” she said. 

That phone call was almost two years ago and the MCPL has been building different kits since then, but many people don’t know about this program especially if they are not library patrons. 

“And then about a year ago, Nancy Wilson had thought that would be a good thing for the elderly and so we went ahead and made some Memory Kits that includes a book on Alzheimer’s and simple exercises to test dexterity, like coloring books. They are hands-on things for elderly to test their memory with local pictures from the 1940s and students who graduated from the schools in the county.” 

They are simply referred to as Home Schooling Kits, with eight different subjects, or Memory Kits with six unique tests and subjects that can be checked out for up to a month. 

Kelsey said, “We want people to use these, meaning color in the books, use and keep the sample materials as these are refillable with whatever is inside.” 

Kelsey and the entire library staff will go through each kit to envision what might be of interest to the students, homeschooled or public. 

“Math Puzzles which include puzzles on the times table, the periodic table and numbers to give them a different idea. I have one called Native American Culture with history and events on tribes all over, but a big focus on Montana Native Americans. Dinosaurs, which is self-explanatory,” she laughs. 

“Then we have Rocks, Minerals & Fossils. And in there the kids get a kick out of coprolite (fossilized dinosaur poop) and a baby Mammoth tooth in it. There are things that I’ve collected over the years that are kind of fun. Then there is Mineral County and Beyond which is history and recreational ideas for the area. It even has a little compass for the kids to keep. And then there is Astronomy. It has a site that you can go on and see exactly where the stars are above you at that very second which I think is pretty cool.” 

Kelsey went on to explain that people can check out a stamping g kit that is more popular than people would imagine. And one kit that has just been completed which is expected to become popular is titled "Home Schooling – How to Begin" that gives a broad scope of the procedures and systems for those families that have been thinking about going in this direction.

“For the elderly, we have 4-Memory Kits that are in various degrees of what the person might need. In each one there is a caregiver book,” she explained. “And then the Fermentation Kit. This gives people an idea before they put a bunch of money into canning to see if they enjoy it.” 

Kelsey actually teaches canning because she has been a Master Food Preservationist for seven years, courtesy of the Mineral County Extension Office. 

“Then there is the CAKLS Kit (Crochet And Knit Lovers) that explains how to knit or crochet with good books for the basics and then another one for intermediate. It contains needles, crochet and thread so all that a person needs to do is dig-in and start. And the last one that we have is Civics, the Constitution and Citizenship which is the heaviest of any of them.”

That phone call two years ago that Kelsey made to Hamilton, opened new doors for the MCPL with extensions in both Alberton and St. Regis. Annika Riley, Youth Services Librarian at Bitterroot Public Library thought this idea was temporary. 

“Katharine Key, (Assistant Youth Services Librarian) and I came up with the idea during covid as we, like most organizations were closed, but we wanted to keep the kids still engaged in learning and keep their interest in studying going. It was so crazy popular that instead of closing it down once the pandemic ended, we have kept it open and continue to build new learning kits,” she bubbled.

Kelsey also shared information on their Kanopy Program that started about a year ago. 

“Basically, it’s a streaming app people can use on their smartphone, smart computer or smart TV, and what intrigues me is that it has a kid’s part. It reads books to the kids so rather than having them watch "Scooby Do" cartoons, there are actual books you can get here. The adult portion is amazing on what can be streamed. Plus, we have Hot Spots to check out if WiFi is an issue.” 

The library is at 301 2nd Ave. E. and can be reached at (406) 822-3563.