ELSANOR — Elsanor School’s “Little Library That Could” is fast becoming the “Little Library That Did.”
In August 2020, Elsanor School Principal Charlotte Gray hired Susan Loy as library media specialist for the school.
“We had worked together at Foley Elementary School and I saw what she did renovating the library there,” Gray said. “When I came here four years ago, I knew she was someone I wanted to hire. When the position came available, I reached out to her and thankfully she accepted.”
Loy’s first task was the major project renovating the library and replacing books that were outdated and in disrepair.
“When I came in, I started calling it the ‘Little Library That Could,’ and it just kind of took off,” Loy said.
First established in 1998, the school’s library has moved four times within the school since then, now located in an area that had previously housed the school’s cafeteria.
County workers were able to make repairs and paint the room, also repairing and providing additional shelving for books.
She also reached out to Baldwin County Schools Superintendent Eddie Tyler, who provided funding for new furniture.
Then there were the books.
“We started out with 6,165 books,” she said. “I literally had to open every single book in this library to check the condition.”
In the end, Loy said, she pulled more than 4,000 books off the shelves that were outdated and in poor condition leaving the library with about 2,000 books on the shelves.
According to state library regulations, Loy said, the school, which averages about 350 students, is required to stock a minimum of 10 books per student, or a total of 3,500 books.
As a Title 1, high poverty school with about 75 % of the school’s students receiving free or reduced lunch, the school gets a small amount of funds per year, about $3,000, which if purchased at retail price means the school could purchase about 200 books per year, Loy said.
“At that rate, it would take us about 20 years to catch up and we are already 25 years behind, so we figured it would take us 45 years to fully get caught up,” she said.
She knew she needed help and reached out to Carl Dickerson, founder and CEO of Dickerson Literacy Initiatives LLC, based in Orange Beach. Loy had worked with Dickerson on a similar project at Foley Elementary.
With his partner, Kimberly Knoth, Dickerson has worked for more than 25 years helping with literacy projects throughout the area.
While Dickerson operates as an LLC, not a non-profit, he partners with organizations and non-profit groups to provide funds and is able to work with book sellers and authors to get books at discounted rates.
As a former Rotarian, Dickerson reached out to the Robertsdale Rotary Club to help with the Elsanor School project with the goal or raising $22,500.
“It is an honor to be able to partner with the Robertsdale Rotary Club,” Dickerson said. “Service to the community is what Rotary clubs are all about and this is a perfect example.”
For the Rotary Club’s current President Rebecca Mills, the project is also personal. A longtime resident of Seminole, her daughter and more recently her grandsons have come through the school.
“It’s about two generations,” she said, “first with my daughter in the ‘90s and then with my grandchildren beginning in 2012. I’ve seen how this school has grown, but it is still a community school where we rally around each other. It’s just amazing how this all started with one building and one classroom to have evolved to what it is today.”
The Rotary Club held a pair of car wash fundraisers in July, along with an online fundraiser and other donations to raise about $1,500 for the project, then reached out to local businesses to raise and additional $4,000.
Dickerson has taken an initial $1,000 donation to purchase 125 books and says with the money raised so far, they should be able to donate 400 more.
With other donations from throughout the area, and grants the school is back up to about 3,000 books and should be back to the minimum number of books by next year, Loy said.
“She has worked tirelessly to build this library into a space we can be proud of,” Gray said. “We appreciate the support of the Rotary Club, Dickerson Literacy Initiatives and all of our local businesses.”
Loy said she hopes to have a “grand re-opening” of the library by the beginning of the next school year in August.
But she is not done there.
“Our goal is to fill the library,” she said. “I believe we have enough space at this point to have 7,000 books and hopefully we can get to a point where we will be able to sustain it with the money we get from the state. We still have books on the shelves that are outdated but are in good enough shape. Our hope is to eventually replace those books and others as they become outdated. I also want to work on providing STEM materials for the library.”
Mills said the Rotary Club will continue to work with the school and Dickerson Literacy Initiatives as long as there is a need.
“This is just the beginning,” she said. “We are going to be here as long as we are needed.”
Donations can be made through the Robertsdale Rotary Foundation at P.O. Box 1133, Robertsdale, AL 36567 or through Paypal, https://www.paypal.com/donate?hosted_button_id=HH2C5QPF4CPKS or by searching for “Robertsdale Rotary,” and note that the funds go to Elsanor School’s “Little Library That Could.”
You can also send donations to the school, 23440 U.S. 90, Robertsdale, AL 36567.
You can learn more about Dickerson Literacy Initiatives at dickersonliteracy.com or about the Robertsdale Rotary Club at robertsdalerotary.com or on the Robertsdale Rotary Club’s Facebook page.