BELFAST — When you ask Stephanie Holman if she has any children, she smiles and says, “I like to say I have hundreds.” Though she and her husband are not parents, as a children’s librarian and a public school teacher, respectively, they have influenced many hundreds of lives.

Since Aug. 23, Holman has been doing what she loves — leading children and teens to reading — at the Belfast Free Library, as youth services director. Previously she was a youth services librarian for 30 years in the Monroe County, Indiana, public library system. She grew up on an organic dairy farm in Bloomington, Indiana, she said, and when her mother came home from trips to the public library with a stack of books, “it was a wealth.” Young Stephanie would take a book and go out to the field to lie propped up against her favorite cow and read.

A friendly tiger waits in a window on the library’s second floor for youngsters who might want a reading companion. Photo by Sarah E. Reynolds

Later, she attended Indiana University, whose main campus was in her hometown, and majored in English and psychology as an undergraduate. One term, she was taking both child psychology and the history of children’s literature. When she overheard another student remark that she enjoyed library science, but the children’s librarians seemed to have the most fun, Holman had an “aha moment” that led her to sign up for the library science program the next day.

Besides her library work, Holman is also a professional storyteller on the side, which she said comes in very handy in working with young library patrons. During the time earlier this fall when some of the students at Capt. Albert Stevens Elementary School were attending classes at the United Farmers Market while the school underwent repairs, Holman told stories on the common to each grade level. Having made that connection, when the students came to the library to select books to read, several of them spoke to her about her stories. As a result of having the CASS students visit the library weekly while they were attending “Adventure School,” 100 children took out new library cards, Holman said.

The move to Maine from Indiana started with her husband’s dream, which became hers as well when they visited the state. Over a period of 10 years, they visited and planned, and in July 2020 they landed in Harpswell, because she found work as a substitute youth services librarian at Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick. She also picked up some hours at the L.L. Bean Outlet store in Freeport to bring in extra money. Her husband is retired after teaching for 33 years.

The Belfast job had been Stephanie’s dream for the entire decade she and her husband were planning their move to Maine, she said. And it is everything she hoped for. As youth services director, she is in charge of the children’s and young adult sections on the library’s second floor. She works with young adult librarian Logan Merry and library assistant Ashleigh Eastman maintaining the collections and providing programs and services for young library users.

She said children today are distracted, and not just by electronics, but in Belfast, “the public should be proud of how many kids love reading. Some are actually addicted to it.” She added that the library’s youth services section is well-used and its shelves are “full of treasures.”

Her favorite comment from a patron so far was, “I love this floor. It seems like a place that says yes to children and teens.”

Belfast Free Library’s children’s and teen’s floor is kid-friendly. Photo by Sarah E. Reynolds

Teachers are working harder than in the past, she said, to get young readers to read longer narratives, like chapter books, and that is where librarians can help by leading children to a book that will catch their imagination and draw them into reading for pleasure.

Holman likes connecting people with what they need in the library and building relationships that lead to reading. She stressed that her role is to be a guide to the resources of the library.

Belfast Free Library’s children’s collection is “full of treasures,” according to Youth Services Director Stephanie Holman. Photo by Sarah E. Reynolds

These include not only books, DVDs and CDs, but also backpack discovery kits, which are knapsacks filled with books, DVDs, toys and costumes for dramatic play organized around a theme, like community helpers. There are also book club kits with enough copies of a book for a club that are often used by schools, she said.

Belfast and its library are a good fit for her, Holman said, “because of the creativity in the community and the excellent philosophy of service at this library, which is: ‘Give them what they want. It’s their library.’”

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