The warm welcome began with a librarian’s flash of inspiration and some deadline grant-writing.
A few years ago, Kate Cutko ’85, director of the one-woman public library in Bowdoinham, Maine, came up with a productive response to her concern over the U.S. government’s newly restrictive rules about Muslim immigration. She conceived of a carefully curated picture book collection that would tell stories about newly arrived residents of the U.S. The collection could travel from library to library statewide.
“It seemed like a natural fit, as some refugees were coming into Maine, and a lot of our communities were experiencing these families for the first time, so it was a nice opportunity to see them in books. And whether or not a community had had a Somali family come to town, at least they could read a story about one and see how friendships are formed in these stories,” Cutko says.
Cutko turned to acquaintance Kirsten Cappy, who works in children’s literature, and in four days they pounded out a grant request that brought them $1,000 to create The Welcoming Library. The two founders describe the traveling collection as “a pop-up community conversation on immigration.” Cappy wrote discussion questions for each book so adults reading with children can help them talk about the story.
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The library was a hit. Local kids raised in Maine loved learning about new neighbors, and new neighbors loved hearing their stories told. And now there are three traveling libraries, thanks to two donations.
Buoyed, Cutko and Cappy formed the nonprofit I’m Your Neighbor Books, which creates, sells, and supports welcoming libraries. Cappy is executive director; Cutko, who remains a volunteer, is thrilled at the growing effort to spread the welcoming word. Her goal for the project? “Is it too lofty to say a nationwide rollout?” she asks.