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Tuscarawas County Public Library looking to expand free books for newborns program

Tuscarawas County Public Library Children's Services Manager Mary Smrek gifts new mom Ashley Beckley a book.
Tuscarawas County Public Library
Tuscarawas County Public Library Children's Services Manager Mary Smrek gifts new mom Ashley Beckley and her son, Easton Butler, a book.

The Tuscarawas County Public Library is looking to expand a program that provides books to newborns.

The First Steps to Literacy: Books for Babies Trust Fund was established in 2008 with the goal of providing every newborn in Tuscarawas County with a book. Each year, 90% of the interest income from the fund is used to purchase books, while the remaining interest and funds are reinvested for use in future years.

It’s important to begin reading to children at a young age, Library Director Michelle McMorrow-Ramsell said.

“So much of a child’s brain development happens in those early years, and that includes those early literacy skills," McMorrow-Ramsell said.

The fund donated 50 books this year to babies born at Cleveland Clinic Union Hospital in Dover. Half of the books they donated this year were bilingual.

“We definitely are wanting to make sure this is a very inclusive program, and it includes everybody in our community," McMorrow-Ramsell said. "And serving our Latino families as well as our non-Latino families is really important to us.”

The fund was founded by New Philadelphia native Betty Lou Honaker who spent many years working as a school librarian. She passed earlier this year, and the library is still trying to fulfill her dream of getting a book into the hands of every newborn in the county.

"We've not been able to fulfill her long-range goal of providing a book to every baby that would be born who will live in Tuscarawas County as of yet," McMorrow-Ramsell said.

The library hopes to begin the process of partnering with other area hospitals next year to try to reach this goal, Public Relations Associate Megan Kovalaske-Grimm said.

“Not every baby that lives in Tuscarawas County is born in Tuscarawas County so trying to get those connections too with the other surrounding hospitals to be able to partner up with them to get a book into those area residents as well when they bring a newborn home," Kovalaske-Grimm said.

McMorrow-Ramsell hopes with those connections and more donations, they can continue to grow the program to serve even more residents in the county.

Abigail Bottar covers Akron, Canton, Kent and the surrounding areas for Ideastream Public Media. A Northeast Ohio native and lifelong listener of public radio, Abigail started in public radio as a news intern at WKSU. She graduated in 2022 with a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Kent State University.