The most widely checked out collection at UW-Stout’s Robert S. Swanson Library and Learning Center is not what most readers would think. With the amount of research done at the university, it isn’t the reference section or nonfiction. And as popular as the comics/graphic novels section is, even that isn’t the most checked out.
In fact, the most checked out section of the University Library this fall has outpaced comics, graphic novels, movies and video games combined.
The answer? Children’s books and media within the library’s Educational Materials Center.
Located on the second floor of the library, the EMC was created to support UW-Stout faculty, staff and students within the School of Education programs by providing them with examples of learning resources used in preschool to high school instruction. It offers high quality, age-appropriate materials within its juvenile and young adult fiction and nonfiction, board books, puppets, kits, big books and textbooks collections.
“Even though the EMC was established for education students and faculty, it is open to everyone,” said EMC Librarian Tanya Gunkel. “It’s a welcoming place for any student to come and study, or a place you can bring your kids where they can boost a love of reading or engage in imagination by creating a puppet show.
“This is a collection that defies expectations and a place that grows with and because of the collaborations that exist within the Stout community. And for those with some imagination, new possibilities with the collections arise.”
This fall, communications studies Lecturer Mackenzie Krzmarzick brought her Fundamentals of Speech class to the EMC to use the puppet and kit collections in speeches and to learn about the credibility of sources.
“Hearing about the fun and exciting resources in the EMC inspired me to redesign my course to include weekly speech lab sessions,” Krzmarzick said. “My students visit the EMC twice in the semester to work on their speech labs, which include a puppet show and a hands-on research lab, and to become more familiar with the library, in general. Providing a space like this for the students to have fun while practicing speech has been valuable in decreasing their speech anxiety.”
Gunkel oversees the EMC collection, researching and ordering new items or removing items, often based on faculty, staff and student feedback. She also teaches classes, provides research assistance and presents story times at the Child and Family Study Center on campus.
While Gunkel is the only EMC staff member, she knows she couldn’t succeed without the support and collaboration of her colleagues in the library and across campus.
“Our education partners, from students to faculty to our colleagues at the CFSC, have a real sense of ownership over the space, knowing how much time, effort and collaboration go into making the space accessible and relevant,” she said.
In recent years, faculty have urged the increase in bilingual books, particularly as resources for education students in practicums or student teaching in diverse classrooms. The EMC also takes requests from the community. “Last year, we were asked if we had any Russian bilingual materials, which we do. We were told we had the only such resources in town,” Gunkel said.
The EMC has more than 200 bilingual books, representing 25 languages, spread out across three sections of the EMC. Languages include Hmong, Spanish and Ojibwe. Books in both Dari and Pashto will arrive soon, to welcome people new to Wisconsin from Afghanistan.
Gunkel is working on bringing all of the bilingual books into one area of the EMC.
“The bilingual collection is a work in progress, but by having the bilingual books in one collection, it will improve accessibility and browsability for all,” she said. “When a student comes in for a Somali/English book, or a class comes in looking for Spanish/English books for a project, the books would all be in one, accessible location.
“These books are valuable because it’s important for children to see themselves represented in stories and in the accompanying illustrations,” Gunkel added. “They provide the opportunity for children and adults to build vocabulary through repetitions, and illustrations help to teach words and phrases in context.”
Gunkel is working with the Stout University Foundation to bring the bilingual collection to fruition. The EMC is seeking funding through donations to purchase new shelving.
Hosted by Stout University Foundation, donations can be made online or by check and can be addressed to Stout University Foundation, 320 S. Broadway St., Menomonie, Wis., 54751.
“If folks are interested in investing in the EMC and the future of the community, we appreciate the support,” she said. “Once this project is funded, we will be excited to share a valuable collection and further promote the library’s commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion.”
More than just books
While Gunkel believes the EMC is the most colorful and beautiful place on campus, it’s also exceedingly practical, she said, with resources that are routinely part of the curriculum.
“The EMC is a magical place. When you step onto the second floor, you feel the warmth and vibrancy of the space. Your imagination takes over,” she said. “It’s beloved because it’s also a meaningful place, whether you’re a 4-year-old looking for a dinosaur puppet, a graduate student looking for a book on explaining grief or a faculty member seeking out new phonics curriculum.”
Gunkel is constantly seeking ways to improve the EMC for users. Last fall, she noticed students struggled to find kits and were confused by the classification system. The kits collection offers hands-on learning materials that teachers use to enhance and support their curriculum, including musical instruments, puzzles and games.
In the spring, Gunkel created a more usable classification system with input from staff and faculty and recatalogued and increased the amount of shelving for kits.
“This fall, kits are the second-most checked out collection in the EMC,” she said. “For me, it is satisfying to see that a project inspired by increasing accessibility has resulted in a dramatic usage increase.”
Julie Bates-Maves, professor of clinical mental health counseling, and CFSC Director Allison Feller think the EMC is a phenomenal resource.
“I love taking my students to the EMC to show them how the use of metaphor in children’s literature can help a client understand and tell their own story better,” Bates-Maves said. “Plus, there’s more than just books. The kits and puppets offer additional tools for helping clients through a range of issues and topics.”
CFSC staff use the EMC weekly to support the curriculum and activities they teach at the center. “We appreciate the ability to use the space for story times, host STEAM fairs and multicultural celebrations in collaboration with other campus programs,” Feller said.
Recently, library staff and the Office of International Studies collaborated to create a display to celebrate Diwali, a festival of lights celebrated in much of India and other south Asian countries. The display is on the second floor.
The EMC is also a popular place for student organizations to meet and host events, including the National Art Education Association’s Bob Ross painting nights and the TableTop Gaming group’s Monday night matches.
The Children’s Art Club met weekly in the EMC before the pandemic but is having virtual sessions now. “We absolutely hope to have them back in the future,” Gunkel said. “We love to share the EMC, and anyone wanting to host a meeting or event here can contact me.”
UW-Stout’s School of Education offers seven undergraduate degrees and five master’s degrees, as well as post-baccalaureate educator certifications and online professional development courses.