Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

August 23, 2018
Nurturing from Nothing

Jessica Johnson’s passion grows Stansbury Reading Room into the Stansbury Library 

Ten years ago, Jessica Johnson accidentally started a library. It all began in Grantsville. Johnson helped with the Grantsville Library’s summer reading program, helping manage storytime and crafts with the children.

She loved it, but with no library or reading program for her children in Stansbury, she wondered, ‘Why wasn’t I doing this for my own community?’

Knowing her community needed reading as much as Grantsville did, Johnson went to work. She got permission to take Grantsville’s leftover summer reading supplies, gathered 300 books from her own collection, and set up a program in an unused room of the Stansbury Clubhouse.

The kids loved it and after six weeks of summer reading, they weren’t ready to stop. Johnson remembered the first ending party for the program. 

“‘Yay! Summer reading is over,’” Johnson recalled that participants said. “The treats, the prizes… and they cried instead of being happy. So, I looked at my calendar and said, ‘I’ve got six more weeks. Fall reading — Let’s do it!”

Even after fall reading was over, the children still weren’t tired of books. Thus, winter reading began, and the cycle continued.

By the next summer, Johnson’s summer reading project grew even bigger.

“About that time, I had two Eagle Scouts approach me,” Johnson said. “They said, ‘We’ve heard about what you’re doing. Could we gather books for you?’”

With only a few of her own books on the built-in shelves of the basement room, she thought, “any donations would help.”

But she got a few more than expected.

“I went, overnight… from 300 of my own books to over 6,000,” Johnson said. “Boom! Shelves are filled.”

Stansbury residents came in droves, with truckloads and trailers full of boxes of books. Johnson even remembered one person who donated 1,100 books at once, because they were moving across the country.

With shelves filled and the program running, Johnson had started what would become the Stansbury Reading Room and eventually, the Stansbury Library. For 10 years, Johnson raised her five children, worked as a substitute teacher, and ran the library on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“I didn’t miss a Tuesday or Thursday for a long time,” Johnson said.

A lot of things have changed for Johnson and the library in recent months. 

The Stansbury Service Agency replaced the carpet with tile due to extensive water damage. The flooding went on for years, sometimes ruining hundreds of books, even as the service agency tried to identify and fix the problem. No flooding has occured since the remodel. 

With the walls repainted, the newly decorated library reopened mid-July with an open house, book fair and a summer reading kickoff party.

There have been other changes as well. In spring 2017, the new library board came together. Five volunteers now help Johnson with the growth of the library and other projects she can’t do alone.

With the help of her board, the library is now an official 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. A grant covers the costs of summer reading, which previously came entirely out of Johnson’s pocket. 

Johnson has organized a cataloguing and checkout system, which is a vast improvement on the notebook and pencil method she had used for 10 years.

“I was writing everything down by hand,” Johnson said. “If you were checking out a hundred books … I’d get some cramps!”

Now all it takes to check out is a barcode scanner and a laptop.

The library also got official state library cards, which give access to online databases of ebooks, audiobooks, and videos as well as the Stansbury Library’s catalogue.

“We’re just so stuck on our phones,” she lamented. “But with this online access, your phone is a book.”

Since the Stansbury Library reopened in mid-July, the facility has handed out 60 cards and counting.

“I get messages every day, and I run the cards over to them as fast as I can,” Johnson said.

More and more donations have come in, and Johnson has amassed over 10,000 books – from children’s picture books and middle grade chapter books to adult novels, nonfiction and poetry.  With so many books and services, Johnson figured it was time to move on from the “Reading Room” name.

“We were the Reading Room in the past because it didn’t fit the idea of what a library was,” Johnson said. “… When you see the word ‘library,’ you have a picture in your mind of what to expect when you walk in the door and I wasn’t matching that in hours open or offerings.”

With the addition of more staff, a new community-sourced logo, and official library cards, it seemed like it was time to make the Reading Room into a library.

“Just so many exciting things have happened since January. It’s been redone, fixed, repainted fresh, and now we’re official,” Johnson said. “The community wants the library so much.”

In her years of experience as a substitute teacher and running the library, Johnson has seen how much reading can mean to a community and individuals. She’s seen a correlation in the classes where she substitutes. 

Johnson has noticed that kids who read for enjoyment and understand what they read have far better grades in all areas than other groups.

“For me,” she said, “It’s all about the kids. If they can read with confidence, that’s going to help them all throughout life.”

She’s seen it happen.

An 8-year-old girl in summer reading, two years behind reading level with failing grades and paralyzing shyness, began taking home books to practice her reading. Soon, she was reading out loud to the other children, and her grades came up to A’s.

A young boy who barely spoke and had difficulty writing up a presentation on snowflakes to share with his class, was inspired to perform his presentation following a winter reading lesson on snowflakes.

A girl in a substitute class who had been bullied by her third-grade class, wouldn’t participate, and never read aloud. After coming to reading circle for the first time, she began reading aloud beautifully.

Johnson said the Stansbury Library is a safe place for kids to explore reading and learning in a way that works for them, without the pressure of the classroom.

In addition, Johnson said in her decade of library involvement, she’s seen many kids overcome challenges or learning disabilities, Teachers and parents are sometimes shocked with how much their kid learns in such a short time, she said.

Johnson has personally experienced the importance of reading, too.

“My mother was an English major,” Johnson said. “She loved books. Summer reading was mandatory in my house. Books were always in our home, even when we were scraping by.”

Books even helped Johnson escape the hard times in her own life. As a teenager, Johnson said she had her own set of problems, including depression, stress and self-loathing.

“Reading was my safe place,” she said. “If I was unhappy… I could take that book off my shelf, and I was Princess Guinevere.”

Since reading helped Johnson through tough times in her life, she decided to pass that knowledge on to as many people as she could. In the future, she wants to expand the library even more. Her goals include hiring a paid librarian, gaining more volunteers and maybe even moving to a bigger building.

For now, however, the most important thing for the library is exposure.

“The more people that know about me and come, the more things I’ll be able to offer,” she said.

After a decade of growth for the Stansbury Library, Johnson knows exactly why she’s continued to nurture the Stansbury Library, despite the hard work. The reason is it has been rewarding to watch people grow through reading.

“I think that’s the reason I’ve stuck with it,” Johnson said. “You have to. It’s just too important. It makes a difference.”

For information on how to volunteer at the Stansbury Library, please contact stansburyreadingroom@gmail.com. They especially need volunteers with social media and marketing experience, and trained library staff. 

If you would like to visit Jessica, or either check out or donate books, visit the library in the lower level of the Stansbury Park Clubhouse on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4:30-6:30. 

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