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Willimantic’s Library Satellite Promotes Access to Books

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The Willimantic Public Library has opened a satellite location at Windham Heights, a housing complex on the outskirts of downtown, giving children and families greater access to learning resources and more than 2,000 book titles.

The brainchild of recently retired Willimantic librarian Gail Zeiba and EASTCONN’s Carolyn Stearns, the library outpost opened last fall and is going strong, thanks to commitments from EASTCONN, the Vesta Housing Authority, which manages Windham Heights, and the Town of Windham. 

 “This was a natural next step in our efforts to meet the learning needs of kids,” said Carolyn Stearns, coordinator of the EASTCONN-operated Community Arts Connection (CAC) after-school program at Windham Heights. “Many of our students had never been to the library before but we just didn’t have enough funding to make trips to the downtown public library.” 

“Bringing the library to where the people are is an important thing,” said Willimantic librarian Carlos Chuquizuta, who helps staff the new outpost. “We are reaching an entirely new population – a population that we don’t often see at the Willimantic Public Library. It’s very fulfilling.”

“Children and parents in our community have more access to books to take home,” said Mercedes Arroyo, Vesta Housing Authority Resident Service Coordinator. “Families are happy.
Some of them don’t have transportation to get to the public library in Willimantic, but here they can come more often.” 

In addition to residents of Windham Heights, the library serves nearly 70 elementary and middle-school students in the EASTCONN-run after-school program, which provides tutoring, homework assistance, creative activities, field trips, and more. Students have daily access to the library, for recreational reading or research purposes.

“My favorite thing about the library is picking out books and then getting to save them until I want to read them again during reading time,” said Joselin, a third-grader in the CAC program.

The satellite’s book collections include children’s stories, young adult fiction, biographies, parent-teacher and bilingual selections. A new parenting skills section is in the works. 

“An interesting development is watching students begin to curate the young adult section,” said Stearns. “They developed an interest in these books far beyond what I had expected.”

Shelves and books were donated by the Willimantic Library and a grant purchased a laptop/scanner used to
catalog new books. 

Two days a week, the library is staffed by bilingual Willimantic librarians, offering the same features as any public library, including free library cards valid at any library in Connecticut. 

“We’ve created ease of access for families,” said Stearns. “They can avoid taking public transportation into Willimantic, it’s easy to take out books … and there is a level of comfort for Spanish-speaking families.” 

She added, “This location has created greater understanding and a bridge between the satellite and the main library branch.” 

“If given access to books, most kids will begin to enjoy reading, and they may read more often,” said Chuquizuta. “Plus, kids are the future. Exposing them to the library here will help keep libraries alive.”

Contact Carolyn Stearns at cstearns@eastconn.org.