In the waiting room of the Bedford-Stuyvesant Family Health Center, Brooklyn residents come for the Center’s wide range of diagnostic, preventative, treatment and counseling services. But parents who have brought their children for checkups or shots may also meet Lindsay Anderberg, offering them free books.
Anderberg comes to the center twice a month as a volunteer for the Brooklyn Public Library’s Hospital Storytelling Program. The program, which operates at health care centers across Brooklyn, sends volunteers to waiting rooms in well-child clinics to give away books, encourage reading as a pastime, and offer information about the library and its services.
Anderberg walks up to families she hasn’t spoken to yet and introduces herself. “Hi, I’m here from the Brooklyn Public Library, we’re giving out books to kids, would you like to take a look at them and see if you want to take one?” she generally says.
The children are, at least on this day, remarkably open and responsive, no matter the age. They eagerly follow Anderberg to her open suitcase full of books. She is set up in a front corner of the waiting room, next to a table of informational fliers and a small Elmo-shaped table. When she brings children over, she lets them look through the books and asks them what kind of books they like so that she can guide them. She reads with them as well, stopping occasionally to take notes for a report she will file after the visit.
The report goes to Andre Powe, the Director of Hospital Storytelling at the Brooklyn Public Library. In enrolling volunteers, the library does not look for professional experience, said Powe, but for “regular people from the community.
"We’ve seen everybody from retired teachers to stay-at-home moms, kids in college or high school or just getting out of high school,” he said.
Volunteers are asked to make a six-month commitment, although many continue for longer, with the longest volunteer logging eight years, said Noel Keeler, the library’s Manager of Volunteer Resources.
Anderberg, who lives in Crown Heights, was looking for volunteer opportunities as she was about to start a degree program in Library Science. Although initially interested mainly in academic library work, volunteering has opened Anderberg to an interest in public library work, she said.
The Hospital Storytelling Program was formally begun in 2001 through the initiative of Carrie Banks, the Director of the Child’s Place at the Brooklyn Public Library.
“When I first started here in 1997, getting into the hospitals was something I wanted to do,” she said. In 1999 the library began sending paid readers to inpatient centers, and in 2001 the Hospital Storytelling Program was formalized with the introduction of outside funding from Reading is Fundamental, a national non-profit literacy organization.
Initially, the program only sent paid readers, called "hospital storytellers," to inpatient settings. Those brought on as hospital storytellers tend to be people with backgrounds in teaching or childcare. In 2003, the program was expanded with the addition of volunteers, called reading troubadours. The troubadours work in outpatient settings, usually in the waiting rooms of well-child clinics.
The number of clinics visited each year varies as volunteers phase in and out and funding for the program fluctuates, Powe said.
There are currently seven Reading Troubadours who serve six sites and eight hospital storytellers serving fourteen sites. Powe is also working on placing three newer volunteers at additional sites. “Each relationship between the program and a clinic is uniquely cultivated,” he said.
In addition to giving out books, Troubadours will talk with parents about services offered by the library and strategies for encouraging their children to read. They also offer the chance to sign up for a library cards. Coupons for another free book are also given out, redeemable in person at the library. Troubadours also offer a reading list for different age groups.
The personal connection Troubadours are able to establish with visitors reinforces the enjoyment of reading that the program aims to foster. For many at the Bed-Stuy clinic, Anderberg has become a fixture. Today, she spent a large part of her time there talking and reading along with Dwayne, Delarno, Deejay and Kayla, brought there that morning by their mother, Josel Benjamin. Ms. Benjamin, who lives in the neighborhood, says that they see Anderberg there most of the times that they visit to the center.
“The kids always find something to read,” she said.
Those interested in volunteering can apply online or request an application at their local branch. Volunteer Resources at the Library can be reached at 718-230-2406.