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Norwalk Library Goes Beyond Just Books

Kamille Claudio is enjoying her first job. What does the 2010 graduate of Brien McMahon High School do? She plays with children at the South Norwalk Branch of the Norwalk Public Library.

Claudio is officially a "shelfer" at the smaller, homier cousin of the main branch, but the best part is when a storyteller entertains the kids. "You would think the kids wouldn't get too much into it. But when she comes, the kids stand up, they're all active," she said. "They get really into it, it's really cute."

"They dress up," agreed Sherelle Harris, manager of the branch's children's department, who said the branch is more than a neighborhood library. "We also get a lot of people from the surrounding communities who come in for our collection."

Programs include the Sono Chapter book club for second- and third-graders, and soon, something similar for younger children. "It's called 'My Very First Book Club' for kindergartners and first-graders," she said. "That should start probably mid-January."

When the kids get older, the book discussions get more sophisticated. She recently had politicians, including Common Council member Doug Hempstead, read a chapter of week of Hill Harper's "Letters to a Young Brother," to teenagers. Afterward, he chatted with the kids about it. "That one was phenomenal," she said. "It was a little bit of everybody, (because) manhood is not just one thing."

Former politicians made an appearance at a groundbreaking adult event in October, a debate between former Mayor Alex Knopp and Randall Avery, who served on the board of estimation and taxation. "The reason we chose people who are not in politics [anymore] is because they had nothing to lose," Harris said. "It was interesting because both of them are on such opposite sides of the political spectrum, but they're very gentlemanly about it."

The debate had nothing to do with the election, she said. "Everybody is kind of in an uproar about the economy," she said. "It seemed logical, something that we would do. Libraries, I think, are known for bringing in the community and getting all aspects of the community involved."

Harris is negotiating with an artist to teach about the music industry. "We want to have monthly workshops," she said, "then maybe have some jam sessions with the people who participate."

Harris has been a librarian for more than a decade, after being recruited into the career. "Honestly, if I was rich I'd do it for free," she said.

Claudio has been a helper since her junior year at Brien McMahon, and Harris wasn't happy she was graduating.

"A few months before I was going through withdrawal – 'oh my gosh, how are we going to replace her?'" she said. "And then, you know, she said she wasn't leaving. I cannot tell you how happy I was. I mean, she's awesome. I never have to worry. She's good, she knows the vision."

She has something else to offer.

"I like books as well," Claudio said. "I read tons. I love to help her order books, to see the collection grow. I like having a few of the kids come and ask me for the books we picked. ... This is my first job and I'm really happy with my choice."

Are you a regular library patron? What do you go to the library for? Books? Activities? Start the conversation below.

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