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Millcreek Journal

Local bookstore owner helps Roosevelt Continuation Library open for students

Mar 30, 2023 03:45PM ● By Lizzie Walje

As of January 2023, the Roosevelt Continuation Library is now open for students. (Lizzie Walje/City Journals)

After months of hard work and dedicated collaboration, the Roosevelt Continuation Library officially opened its doors with a ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the occasion. The library, located in the Roosevelt Continuation School, was completely reworked and stocked using books acquired by Marissa’s Books. Despite the numerous challenges that occurred along the way, this library marks an important turning point for the school and an overall call to encourage reading for all students across the state.

Long before Millcreek Mayor Jeff Silvestrini arrived to cut the ribbon, the Roosevelt Library was merely a budding idea. School officials knew that a library would greatly impact the school’s overall culture but didn’t know where to start. That’s when Cindy Dumas, owner of the local bookstore Marissa’s Books, received a call from Brie Butterfield of United Way.

“Brie called and said that Roosevelt Continuation School was looking to build a library and they needed some books. She was wondering if we’d be willing to donate,” Dumas said. “Well, there was basically no library at that point. They needed far more than just a few donations, given that 90% of the shelves were completely bare. So, we got to work.” 

In order for the library to reach its full potential, it would need to be built from the ground up. For Dumas and her bookstore’s employees, this would include getting books donated, creating a cataloging system, teaching library staff how to use the cataloging system, and finally getting everything built. The school was also specific when it came time to discuss the types of books they wanted to be featured in the library. The Roosevelt Continuation School is essentially an alternative school, and they often serve populations that could be categorized as at-risk or sensitive. 

While literacy is important for all students, regardless of circumstance, for the students at Roosevelt, it was important that they have access to material that could be both life-changing and motivating. “They wanted things that could give kids hope for the future, and to give them an outlet, so they can learn more about how to potentially change their situation. We gave them books about entrepreneurship and college, and other types of schooling, a lot of books you might not find in a traditional high school,” Dumas said. 

Given the overall lack of resources, getting the library from point A to B was bound to be a challenge. However, for Dumas and the team at Marissa’s, one of the biggest challenges would be setting up the library. After all, Dumas is familiar with buying books and curating selection, but building a library was an entirely different scenario. 

“We probably had 80% of what we needed,” Dumas said. “We have a store and warehouse, where we keep books, we went through our process at the warehouse, and asked ourselves the necessary questions like what does this school need? If so, can we get it through the warehouse?” 

According to Dumas, on average a completely donated library like the one at Roosevelt can consist of anywhere from 800 to 10,000 books. The Roosevelt School also has a student body of multiple ages ranging from sixth- to 12th-graders, which is a wide range of age and thus, reading material. Despite the undertaking, it was one that Dumas felt was close to her heart. Illiteracy was something she had firsthand experience with, and she wanted to do what she could to make a difference in a student’s life. 

“On a personal level, I know how difficult it is to progress in school if you can’t read well. And that, not being able to read well, can hinder you in any subject,” Dumas said. “I was struggling in every class after moving from San Francisco to Utah. Thankfully, I had an amazing teacher who would make a difference in my life in grade six. He took time to bring me things I could read, to help me.” 

Even in a developed country like the United States, illiteracy is still a problem that plagues students. According to UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), worldwide at least 773 million adults face literacy challenges and two-thirds of them are women. The Covid-19 pandemic was also hard on students and illuminated literacy issues. Across the board, reading scores were universally lower during the height and consequent fallout of Covid-19.

As far as Dumas is concerned, we’re now largely playing a game of catch-up following the Covid-19 years. “The literacy issue is huge. These teachers, teachers in all kinds of schools, have given us calls because they realize it’s a bigger issue now having gone through Covid. I saw how hard online classes were for kids. We’re at a critical point where we can still get them up to speed,” Dumas said. 

Dumas also spoke to the need for multicultural learning, as literacy helps give students exposure to different cultures through reading. Reading can help students understand and empathize with others. Moreover, since helping Roosevelt, Dumas and the team at Marissa’s plan to keep working with as many other schools as they can. “We’ve provided a lot of schools with books, and we’re talking many different languages from Farsi to Spanish. Especially in elementary schools where the children haven’t learned English quite yet. We try to cater a lot of our book buying, you know, things like the classics and interactive I Can Read types of books.” 

Silvestrini made a particular note of how this library will enhance the lives of students before he cut the ribbon. 

“With this particular population, it’s so important to have outlets like this. Outlets that will help develop skills and confidence,” he said. “At the city level, we want to keep doing whatever we can to make sure projects like this have our full support.”