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Devoted to serving kids

Youth librarian Cassi Elton ready to reach out to Solon
New Youth Services Librarian Cassandra (Cassi) Elton sings “If You Want to Read a Book” to the children gathered for the weekly preschool storytime Oct. 3 at the Solon Public Library. (photo by Doug Lindner)

SOLON—Solon’s kids were welcomed to the library’s Storytime with a ukulele last week, as new Youth Services Librarian Cassandra (Cassi) Elton sang and strummed “If You Want to Read a Book” to the tune of “If You’re Happy and You Know It.”
Elton, who began in her new role on Sept. 18, will be facilitating and planning weekly Storytime, instructing Babygarten, and organizing early-out activities and teen programming.
Working with boisterous children sounds like a fun challenge to her, rather than a scary task. She loves kids’ contagious enthusiasm.
Originally from New Jersey, she and her husband live in Iowa City, where they moved so Elton could attend graduate school. She earned a Master’s degree in Library and Information Science and a certificate in Book Arts. She worked at a Before and After School Program (BASP) at Grant Wood Elementary, in Iowa City, and also worked at the Coralville Public Library.
“One of the big things I learned running a BASP is how to work with large groups of 60 to 90 kids at once,” she said. “I learned how to command a squirrely group of kids who’d been in school all day.”
One exciting facet about working for the Solon Public Library is its small but “fantastic” team. In a small-town library, the position comes with greater latitude than would exist in a big city library. And Solon’s youth services program is already strong, she said.
“I really love to come into an environment like this, where everything is already running really smoothly,” she said. “I’m excited to get to know the community more and see what great talent is here to partner with in a mutually beneficial way.”
Working in partnership is a strength of Elton’s, Library Director Kris Brown said.
“Cassi has worked with so many different groups in the Johnson County area,” Brown said. “She understands the value of developing partnerships, and that is a trend with all libraries. It is important that we build those partnerships which helps to get us out in the community that we serve.”
In 2012, Elton founded the Antelope Lending Library, a nonprofit Bookmobile-based service that brought books to kids in underserved areas in Iowa City. It’s since expanded to areas outside Iowa City, including Ainsworth, Monticello and Jones County. The Bookmobile’s collection has amassed between 3,000 and 4,000 books with the help of grants and community support.
She had the idea while working at Grant Wood, a school with a high poverty rate, in a Before and After School Program specifically for kids testing below level in reading or math. A future librarian, her conversations with the kids naturally gravitated toward reading. She was dismayed to find few kids spent time at their local library and therefore couldn’t take advantage of the wealth of resources available there.
In her view, these were the kids who needed good books the most. If they couldn’t get to the library, she decided she would bring the library to them.
At the end of one summer, a little girl wrote a note of thanks to the Antelope Lending Library.
“Thank you for coming to my neighborhood,” she wrote. “I know that my good grades in school will be thanks to the Bookmobile.”
A few days per month, the Bookmobile will be parked outside the Solon Public Library, as Elton will be driving it into neighborhoods after work.
Her continued experience with the Antelope Lending Library has given her plenty of valuable skills, including grant-writing and book repair.
Brown said Elton’s organizational skills are key when it comes to working with so many different age groups at the library. And Elton really values kids’ ideas. Part of her job philosophy is to listen well.
“If kids and teenagers come up and they have an idea for a program they want to do, or books they want to add to the collection, we should listen to them,” she said. “They’re invested in how these programs go and what the library service provides.”