February 16, 2018

Amy Cheney | Movers & Shakers 2006



Cheney draws inspiration from a collection of rocks worn smooth by the waves. They’re a constant reminder to her of ‘the impact we all have on creation, even if we can’t at first tell.’

Amy Cheney likes teens, even rebels who’ve been abused and neglected and in return are ‘walking a thin line between being victims and also victimizing others.’ As project director for the Write To Read Program in the Alameda County Juvenile Detention Hall, she gets to help them turn their lives around.

The program features one-on-one tutoring by Berkeley students, as well as storytelling, book talks, and dramatizations of books to get students interested in reading. Cheney also brings in authors whose own lives prove that one can triumph over the toughest of challenges. ‘This is not an easy audience, yet Amy has an ability to reach them,’ says Terri Barolero, program director of San Francisco’s City Youth Now.

The proof is in the data. In a Juvenile Hall survey conducted in 2001, BA (Before Amy), 33 percent of boys said they didn’t like to read and 68 percent of boys said there weren’t any good books to read at the Hall. In the 2004 AA survey, only three percent said they didn’t like to read and five percent said there weren’t any good books. The kids check out 98 percent of the books featured in Cheney’s programs, and they say things like, ‘I read my first book here. Now I’ve read so many books, I lost count!’

Cheney, whose background is in counseling, believes this job draws on everything she’s ever done and learned. ‘I feel like all of me is being used, and I feel lucky about that,’ she says. And when she walks into a unit and is ‘mobbed by kids wanting to tell me about the book they just read and ask me for more books, I feel like I have the best librarian job in the world.’

Cheney would like to help other libraries start programs in juvenile halls and give other librarians the pleasure of seeing the ‘sullen, sour, I-couldn’t-care-less-about-you-me-and-much-less-a-book attitude’ turn to eager anticipation and excitement.



Current Position Project Director, Juvenile Hall Library and Literacy Program, Alameda County Library, Fremont, CA
Degrees B.A. in English, San Francisco State University, 1988; graduate work at UC-Berkeley
Awards Public Education Service Award, Alameda County Board of Education; Community Partnership Award, University of California
Fun fact ‘Around the Hall, kids usually call me book lady’