Assistant Manager, Youth and Outreach Services, and Children’s Librarian, Laramie County Library System, Cheyenne, WY
MLIS, University of North Texas, Denton, 2012
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Photo by Bob Stefko
It takes a special kind of alchemy to create something from nothing, as Carrie Lucas did at the Laramie County Library System (LCLS). Originally, the large room on the second floor of the main library was used for story times and special programs and little else. Lucas transformed it into the Early Literacy Center (ELC) via an impressive three-year plan for phased implementation that she developed and presented to the library administration. “In the LCLS story time room space Carrie envisioned a place where children, parents, and caregivers could come and learn together simply by playing,” says coworker and nominator Carey Hartmann.
Children and their caregivers can play in one of five areas, each based on the skills that the “Every Child Ready To Read” initiative focuses on: read, talk, play, sing, and write. As they explore each section, children can stop at designated “learning spots” and follow the prompts. The directed activities build skills needed for kindergarten readiness. But it’s the uncharted activities in the space that really inspire Lucas and make her believe the room is being used as it was intended. “You walk in and see that the room has been designed like a piece of art, and you can tell that [the children] were really into using their imagination to create something you would never expect,” she says.
Lucas has worked hard with the library team to promote the ELC, including the creation of Elsie and Eddie mountain lion mascots. “Carrie knew that branding the ELC with characters was paramount” to engaging preschoolers, says Hartmann.
Lucas’s community efforts go well beyond the ELC. She formed teams to participate in the First LEGO League and Junior First LEGO League—for children ages nine to 14 and ages six to nine, respectively—which aim to introduce kids to the principles of science and technology, often through robotics. While the First LEGO League team won third place for strategy and innovation in a statewide competition that included 65 teams (the LCLS participants were the only library team), the Junior First LEGO League is a pilot program being tested at only three libraries nationwide. At the time of her nomination, Lucas had raised $18,000 in donations for children’s STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) programs through partnerships with the wider community.
Also a mother of two, Lucas says that her involvement in libraries was “roundabout,” almost accidental. Others might say it was destined. When she graduated from Regis University in Denver, Lucas worked in finance until her husband got a job in Wyoming. Only after her children grew up did she reenter the workforce with a part-time position at the library, which soon grew into a passion. “I thought, ‘Whoa, this is something that comes naturally to me and I really enjoy.’ It’s funny how…you can find what you were really meant to do,” she says.