Big Read gets ‘Wild’ at DeKalb Public Library

By Jerene-Elise Nall

All this month, the DeKalb Public Library is participating in an event called The Big Read.

“The Big Read is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts that was developed because the National Endowment for the Arts commissioned a study that showed that over 50 percent of Americans had not read a book in the last year,” said Kathy Keyes, public relations director at the DeKalb Public Library. “Over a 20 year period, they found that these numbers kept dropping among all age groups. So, they developed the Big Read.”

“Out of all the libraries who applied this year, only 75 were chosen,” said Steven Torres-Roman, teen librarian at the DKPL.

“We were lucky enough to be one of 75 communities that was awarded a grant this year, and this is down from over 400 grants that they gave out last year,” Keyes said.

This year, DeKalb Public Library is promoting Jack London’s “The Call of the Wild.”

“The neat thing about the Big Read, particularly along with the book “The Call of the Wild,” is that it is appropriate for youths and adults,” Torres-Roman said.

“In this particular book, everyone feels for Buck. Poor Buck, he’s such a wonderful dog and he goes through so many traumatic events,” said Theresa Winterbauer, youth services director at the DKPL. “I was talking to a lady the other day, and she said [the book] had her in tears. It does illicit a response.”

Due to a faltering economy, initiatives like The Big Read have suffered, but have not died out thanks in part to community support in the form of sponsorship.

“The communities such as us have to match the amount of money that the Big Read gives to us,” Keyes said. “One of the great things about our community and how we’ve developed The Big Read over the past four years is we’ve had such good luck in getting community partnership. We always have new partnerships being developed every year, and it’s wonderful to see so many individual businesses and community organizations being involved in the Big Read in such a great way.”

While researching the importance of literacy, the National Endowment for the Arts made a discovery linking literacy to community activity.

“One of the interesting things that the NEA found when they did this study is that people who read more are more likely to be more involved in their communities,” Keyes said.

“Not just because reading is a feel-good proposition, but because the data shows conclusively that people who read do other things. They go to sporting events, they go to movies, they volunteer,” said Dee Coover, director of the DKPL. “So, for a democracy to continue, the National Endowment for the Arts felt that this issue really needed to be addressed.”

The Dekalb Public Library has taken this into consideration when putting together the Big Read and is working to help counter the negative effects of the drop in the literacy rate, with events ranging from arts and crafts for the younger children to teen book talks to lectures and demonstrations for adults, and at no cost to the community. According to Winterbauer, events on Tuesday nights are even presented in both English and Spanish.

“They’re free, that’s one of the best parts,” Winterbauer said. “You don’t have to pay a dime and you can come in and have some of these experiences.”

Besides providing the community with free events, the Dekalb Public Library is also giving away free copies of “The Call of the Wild.”

“If you attend any event, you receive a free copy of the book. And if for some reason, you can’t attend any of the events, you can just stop in and get your free copy,” said Winterbauer.

All in all, The Big Read aims to do the community right.

“It not only promotes literacy, it brings our community together. It makes [our citizens] aware of our resources here, and it also brings them together into reading a book and gets them into a discussion over that book,” Torres-Roman said. “It’s something we can all share together.”