Each year, the Pioneer Library System of central Oklahoma donates books to Women, Infants, and Children programs through the Cleveland County Health Department, McClain County Health Department and Citizen Potawatomi Nation Health Services. Tribal member Britt Muirhead leads the initiative as the programming specialist for PLS.
“That’s really our goal with this is to put a book into as many children’s hands and homes as possible to help promote literacy and a love of learning from an early age,” Muirhead said.
The Anderson and McCarthy family descendant believes in that mission and the importance of early childhood education as a former teacher. The donations follow the completion of the library system’s summer learning challenge when its tri-county service area community participants log time spent reading and learning. This year’s goal was 6 million minutes.
“It’s pretty amazing for our community to spend 6 million minutes reading and learning this summer. And with us reaching that goal, the Pioneer Library System Foundation grants the Pioneer Library System $10,000 to be able to order and donate these books across the service area,” Muirhead said.
Gifting the books for WIC programs to distribute throughout the next year presents a way to promote learning and reading to an under-served segment of the population.
“It’s one thing to take a library book home and then have to bring it back, and it’s another to have one of your own that you get to keep, and that’s yours,” Muirhead said.
The Tribe’s WIC office distributes them throughout Pottawatomie County to clients and CPN’s East and West clinics. The program began in 2019, and since then, the relationship between CPN and PLS has grown stronger.
“I feel like CPN’s community engagement and support of the community really aligns with what PLS’s goal and mission is,” Muirhead said. “And I think that alignment helps us work together more effectively in a way that strengthens our impact on those communities.”
Muirhead reached out to CPN Department of Education Director Tesia Zientek for assistance selecting a children’s book for the donation that filled a gap in Native American representation. As Muirhead put it, “There’s no reason not to.”
“CPN is just as significant population of our community as every other member and everybody else living throughout our service area. And I feel like it’s important to give back and to do so in a way that is inclusive,” Muirhead said.
The donation to the Tribe includes a book titled Cradle Me, featuring photos of Native American infants and translations of vocabulary in Ojibwe and English. Muirhead highlighted the importance of literacy skills in early childhood development.
“Even though I don’t get to do storytimes with (children) anymore, I can provide that opportunity for them to have in their own homes,” Muirhead said.
When handing out Cradle Me, CPN includes a bookmark insert that says, “Read to me” or Gemeshen, in both Potawatomi and English.
CPN Language Department Director “Justin Neely has given us the Potawatomi translation of that … just to give a little bit more exposure of the language to the children and their families,” Muirhead said.
The library hopes to continue the program in the future and expand representation, making it as diverse as the communities in McClain, Cleveland and Pottawatomie counties. Muirhead has heard nothing but positive feedback filled with excitement.
“We’re here to support the community needs however we can, and the more that we’re able to connect and engage with all members of our community, the more we are able to actually meet and serve those individual needs,” Muirhead said.