Bartow County parents have already bought the pencils, notebooks, backpacks and lunch boxes their kids need for back to school, but they may have missed one item that's free and requires no shopping — a library card.
In September, the Bartow County Library System and libraries across the country will be partnering with the American Library Association for the annual Library Card Sign-up Month to urge parents, caregivers and students to obtain a free library card that will save them money as they reap the rewards in academic achievement and lifelong learning.
"A library card can help inspire kids and teens," Youth Services Coordinator Thomas Shalin said. "It provides access to everything the library has to offer — books, computers and the internet, audiobooks, e-books and more. Libraries provide a lot, especially for helping kids and teens succeed in school. A library card also gives them something that is theirs to check out the materials they like. The best part about it [is] using the library and getting a library card is free."
Library Director Carmen Sims said studies show that children whose parents read to them at home and who use the library perform better in school and are more likely to continue using it as a source of lifetime learning.
“Throughout the school year, our library offers a variety of programs to stimulate an interest in reading and learning,” she said. “Story hours expose young children to the joy of reading and encourage school readiness while older children have access to technology and digital tools such as ABCMouse, Tumblebooks, Mango Languages, GALILEO and LearningExpress Library and the help from library staff to use those resources.”
Students can access science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics programs, educational apps and in-person and virtual homework help and technology workshops as well as download free e-books, audiobooks and magazines, she added.
Shalin said Bartow's three libraries are constantly seeking more people to register for cards, but they give an added push during the annual national event, which started in September 1987 to mark the beginning of the school year.
"It’s always a good time to get a library card so every month is sign-up month for us," he said. "We promote library card sign-ups more than normal in September in-house and by doing outreach."
To kick off the month a little early, the sixth-graders at Woodland Middle School took a field trip to the Emmie Nelson Public Library in Euharlee last Wednesday to obtain their own library cards.
English language arts teachers Dr. Cindy Schwartz and Nancy Allen and special education teacher Jody Taylor took students in their first- through fourth-period classes on a 10-minute walk to the library to pick up their cards, tour the facility and participate in all kinds of activities that Shalin and library assistant Will Gaylord had planned for them.
"It was so much fun," Shalin said. "It was great to be able to hand out a lot of library cards and tell and show the students what we have at the library. We are starting a teen Friday after-school series of programs at Euharlee starting in September called 'Freeform Fridays' and will have different activities every Friday from 4 to 5 p.m."
Schwartz, who got the idea for a partnership with the library from attending the Georgia Department of Education Literacy Summer Institute, said she and Shalin worked out the details for students to visit the Emmie Nelson branch and get their cards.
"We were both excited about the possibility and began to make plans for when school started," she said.
The students took the library card applications home for their parents to fill out then brought them back to their teachers.
"The applications were taken to the library the week before our field trip so the cards would be available on the day of our arrival," Schwartz said. "That way, we could spend more time enjoying the library and not spending time at the computer registering for the cards."
In addition to about 150 of them picking up their cards, the sixth-graders participated in an Angry Bird bean bag toss and a Fortnite Nerf gun contest with books as prizes, had a dance party and listened as Shalin and Gaylord each read an excerpt from a young-adult book.
"While they read, the students were on the edge of their seats, and when they finished, the students collectively sighed and shouted, 'Oh, no, don’t stop,'" Schwartz said. "Thomas and Will provided a program that was amazing. The students loved it."
The educator said students liked all different aspects of the library, including being able to check out e-books, put books on hold and do homework there. Some of them even liked the location.
“I like how close it is," Edy Utreta said. "Our parents can take us there so easily.”
“I like that we can check out movies at the library, and I like that we are allowed to check out 25 books at a time,” Lukas Flowers said.
As for the field trip, Zachary Wallace said he “liked all the games we played,” while Dayton Patterson said he "loved the suspense from the book talk.”
Some students made their first visit to a public library while others learned they had a library in their own community.
"About half of the students had been to the Cartersville branch, but only about a fourth of the students had been to the Euharlee branch," Schwartz said. "I feel like this field trip truly helped bring awareness to the library that is literally walking distance out our school’s back door."
The students' excursion "exceeded my expectations," the ELA teacher said.
"I, as well as my students, thought we would just get a tour of the library; it was so much more," she said. "We all loved it. I’m really glad the students got to have this opportunity. I believe we met our objective and formed a wonderful partnership with the public library."
Shalin said a number of activities have been planned for September at the three branches to encourage kids and teens to apply for a library card, including a gourmet popcorn program, a Roblox Day with various games, a Little Bits Day for making things with circuits and a homemade journal day in Euharlee; a Picture Book Science program with magnets in Adairsville; and regular programming in Cartersville, featuring extra sessions of Kids Cook, the Picture Book Science program and a "big library dragon mascot celebration" to reveal its name Sept. 8 at 2 p.m.
Sims said Disney's The Incredibles are this year's Library Card Sign-up Month honorary chairs and are "helping to promote the value of a library card and bring attention to the many ways libraries and librarians transform lives and communities through education."
Shalin said Bartow County residents who want to obtain a card need a valid driver’s license or state ID with a current Bartow address or if that is unavailable, a photo ID with either a utility bill, lease or other documentation that verifies their address.
Kids can get their own cards by being connected to their parents' accounts.
For questions or information, visit the Cartersville, Adairsville or Euharlee branches in person or check the website at bartowlibraryonline.org.