Jennifer Nippert



Large group of children sitting in large room raising their hands to answer a question from the presenter

Students from Owen County met the local canine unit as part of the Big Read. Photo courtesy of Owen County Public Library

In October 2014, Owen County, Kentucky, participated in its first ever Big Read with assistance from the NEA/Arts Midwest, and it was a huge success. In a rural area with a population of just under 11,000 people, the Owen County Public Library distributed 1,000 copies of Jack London's The Call of the Wild to readers of all ages. It was my privilege to participate in the planning and execution of related programming, book discussions and the general celebration of our American literary heritage as director of the library.

As a public librarian, I am constantly looking for ways to bring the arts into my every day life and serve as an advocate for arts in a community that has limited resources. I love to start the day with a favorite quote or poem, or take inspiration from a beautiful photo or object during my lunch break. During the Big Read, we transformed the library with pop-up exhibits of Alaskan photography, examples of local taxidermy and displays of Gold Rush trivia. In many of our scheduled book discussions, we shared our experiences of connecting with the natural world, as well as our love of our faithful canine companions. Intergenerational discussions were especially appreciated! However, the most satisfying portion of the experience for me was the incorporation of a new program into the library's regular programming schedule, named "Paws to Read." Children of all reading levels and abilities are invited to take a book to share aloud with a therapy dog, who is a loving and attentive listener to even a struggling reader. I heard from several parents later in the school year that the opportunity to interact with the therapy dog assisted many students in getting over their resistance to reading and improved their academic performance. What great feedback!

We're thrilled that the NEA has granted Owen County the opportunity to participate in the Big Read for a second year, when we have chosen to focus on the tales of Edgar Allen Poe. We are sending out a big thanks to NEA for providing this opportunity for our community to grow even closer and have fun while we're doing it!

Older man sitting at a table in a library displaying an animal skin talking with a small group of parents and children

Generations exchange knowledge during the Owen County Big Read. Photo courtesy of the Owen County Public LIbrary