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August 26, 2014 > Booklegger program director closes a chapter, opens another

Booklegger program director closes a chapter, opens another

By Johnna M. Laird

Gail Orwig closed a 32-year chapter of her life this past July when she retired as an Alameda County ChildrenÕs Librarian at Fremont Main Library. For 28 years, Orwig served as Program Director for the popular Booklegger program that sends volunteers to Fremont classrooms each fall and spring to entice students to discover the joy of reading.

About 90 Booklegger volunteers, librarians, and friends gathered in the Fukaya Room at the Fremont Main Library on the last Sunday of July to host a tea and wish Orwig well in her next life chapter.

Thirty years ago, ChildrenÕs Librarian Coordinator Bruce Vogel with ChildrenÕs Staff Librarians Elizabeth Overmyer and Bonnie Janssen developed Bookleggers to solve a problem. Librarians wanted to visit all Fremont Unified School District (FUSD) classrooms, but this goal was proving to be an impossible task. To meet the goal, Vogel, Overmyer, and Janssen developed a library ambassador program known as Bookleggers.

Following an eight-week training session, volunteers schedule classroom visits and spread the joy of reading. Loaded with armfuls of books, they tantalize students with each title, telling them just enough to leave students pleading for more. No spoiler alerts from these volunteers, instead Bookleggers leave students with a booklist and encourage them to head to library shelves to read the book for themselves.

Orwig took over the program two years after it began when Overmyer returned to her home branch library in Albany. Orwig co-trained her first volunteers in 1988 with Janssen. Customarily, the program operates with 20 to 30 volunteers each semester. Usually, two to eight new trainees become part of the group.

Bookleggers visit a third of FUSDÕs elementary schools in the fall and another third in the spring. Volunteers also give book talks in junior high school, addressing seventh grades in fall and eighth grades in spring. Managing four to 20 classroom visits each semester, Bookleggers tally from 300 to 350 class visits each semester. About 20,000 Fremont school students hear a book talk each year.

When Orwig reflects back over the years, she says she will miss the volunteers most. ÒThe wonderful volunteers I have worked withÑthey are just so dedicated. Some have had health issues over the years, yet they still have volunteered. Some volunteers have been with me the whole time, like Paula Eads who started in 1985 and then went on to handle our junior high scheduling for years. Carol Quinn retired as a Booklegger, but she still volunteers in our Baby Bounce Infant Reading Program. Kathy Lang Newman went beyond Booklegging to work as a book club organizer for second and third graders.Ó

Orwig remembered how Dominique Hutches joined in 1988 and ended up volunteer co-directing, producing the booklist for many years and working behind the scenes before taking a job in the schools. Elsa Kleinman, Orwig recalled, moved on to lead docent tours in the library.

ÒMadhu Aggarwal used to take vacation time from work just so she could volunteer in classes to give book talks. I am going to miss those October Monthly Meetings when I could see how the new books would be presented,Ó Orwig said.

The list of Booklegger books now exceeds 1,000. Each year, a Booklegger Steering Committee of ChildrenÕs Library staff members and volunteers select books to read. These books, which must have been published within the last three years, are whittled to 25 to 30 and added to the list. Booklegger books are so popular with students that librarians have special locations for them in Fremont Main LibraryÕs section for children.

As a young librarian coming in to lead Bookleggers, Orwig said she gained the opportunity to employ a number of skills: writing, teaching, creativity, and technical skills. ÒI learned how to do book talks and how to teach others to give book talks.Ó Orwig was called upon by other organizations to give presentations on Bookleggers, which earned awards and funding from JC Penny, MervynÕs, and Candle Lighters to support everything from computers to books.

Orwig says she has heard of similar programs in Portland, Oregon, and Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Pleasanton City Library, formerly part of Alameda County LibraryÕs system, operates a Booklegger program headed by Chris Spitzel. ÒThere isnÕt a national Booklegger program, but there should be!Ó says Orwig.

The next chapter of OrwigÕs life will put her on the road, finishing up a book she is writing with her husband, Ray. Over the last 12 plus years, Orwig has used vacation time to visit sites of movie locations with her husband. They have written articles and taken lots of pictures to assemble into a book. One day, she hopes to be standing before audiences giving book talks about their movie locations book. Once a Booklegger, always a Booklegger.

OrwigÕs replacement has not yet been named.

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