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These Indianapolis schools are overhauling their libraries to encourage reading

When it comes to encouraging children to read, it sometimes helps to judge a book by its cover.

Staff at three Indianapolis Public School campuses are “weeding” through their libraries to remove out-of-date books and those that have attracted little interest from students — and to make space for new additions that reflect students’ communities and catch their attention.

The weeding and restocking of the libraries is one piece of the Love of Reading project, which was funded with a grant up to about $1.3 million from Herbert Simon Family Foundation and aims to inspire students and their families to read. In addition to adding to library collections, the grant will pay for three dedicated staff members, library renovations, and programing for families. Books that are removed are available for families to take home.

Research shows students are more likely to choose books that look exciting, said Melba Salmon, director of the Love of Reading Project.

“There may be great content, but if it’s a dull-looking book that’s not interesting looking to a student, they probably will walk past it,” Salmon told the Indianapolis Public Schools board last week. “We want them to be able to pick it up and say, ‘hmmm, that looks interesting.’ ”

The program has a three-pronged approach based on the theory that literacy will improve when students have support developing reading skills, access to inspiring material, and spend time in literacy-rich environments.

“At the end of the day, the very basic principle behind all of this is that students get better at reading the more they practice reading,” said LaTasha Sturdivant, an advisor for the project. “So how can we encourage and inspire and motivate and cultivate the love of reading?”

The two-year pilot will include School 56, School 96, and School 109, which were chosen through an application process.

School board member Elizabeth Gore said the program seemed as though it was thoughtfully designed to be holistic and inclusive of families as well as students.

“It was really exciting because I love reading and the idea that children are encouraged to read is wonderful,” Gore said. “I hope that it will be a positive program.”