CONSHOHOCKEN — Which came first…the chicken or the egg?

Conshohocken Free Library’s new Read More About It program doesn’t pretend to solve such classic conundrums. But if you’re one of the local students currently studying egg-hatching, RMAI – carefully curated packets of resource materials – will give you a leg up in understanding the basics of poultry farming.

Or, for that matter, any number of specific interest areas…everything from trending topics like the U.S. Electoral College or COVID-19 to academic standbys like the life cycle of marine animals.

CFL’s recently-introduced RMAI works this way.

“Submit our online form, and we’ll search the catalog of all materials available in the consortium of libraries in Montgomery County for books that are most appropriate for the age and reading level of your students,” explains CFL Branch Manager Sydney Mason. “We compile a list of suggested resources tailored to your request. You select the items that seem best for your needs, and we can submit requests for you.”

In short, RMAI is the library’s attempt “to extend our reference service using an easy and convenient online tool (that connects) families with the books that will best serve their needs…”

“This year, we’re seeing a growing number of families who suddenly find themselves homeschoolers,” Mason adds. “In many families, children are attending school in person, but they still have to do some of their learning at home (and) may not be able to use the school library to the same extent as they did in prior years. This seems to be the exact situation in which our library and the enormous collection we draw from in Montgomery County can help.

“But nothing is easy in these difficult times. Our collections have the books families might want, but libraries aren’t open for the same number of hours as we used to be. Also, many people are trying to limit their visits to public places. We felt that we needed to come up with a creative way (for) families to communicate with us about their need for books and other reading and research materials…”

And acquire all three as efficiently as possible.

“Let’s say a homeschooling family wants to do a unit on marine animals, or maybe their students are studying marine animals in school and just want to increase their understanding of the topic,” Mason continues. “If you do a quick key word search for books about marine animals in our online catalog, you get 998 results…not very helpful. You need to focus the search to make sure you’re getting books that are going to provide the right amount of information for your reader, that are…intended for their reading level and are going to engage their attention.”

All central to a librarian’s wheelhouse.

“We love helping patrons find materials that are the best fit, and we have lots of experience navigating our catalog,” Mason says. “If you came into the library and asked us for help (finding) books on marine animals that were a good fit for your fourth-grader, we could do that. Easy.”

Such requests can be made in person at CFL, online or via telephone, although online queries are probably easiest.

“With our online form, we give families the ability to ask for a librarian’s help any time of day,” Mason says. “You submit the form when it’s convenient for you, and then we search the catalog for you and suggest a list of books from the Montgomery County libraries that we think could be a good fit. You can then ask us to request any or all of the suggested books for you, or you can do it yourself. We’ll also check our collection of digital resources to see if there are good options for you there.”

Mason’s inspiration for RMAI was rooted in a similar program targeted to teachers.

“I got the idea…from experience I had working at another library,” she says. “That library offered a special service allowing teachers to submit online requests for books on a certain topic and aimed at a particular grade level. The librarians would collect a selection of books for the teacher to keep in his or her classroom…as supplemental reading for their students.

“The service was called Classroom Assistant, and the goal was to save teachers from having to spend time searching through the catalog and placing all the requests themselves. This summer, I started thinking about how helpful this could be for families trying to support their kids’ learning at home, without access to a classroom or school library. Families suddenly found themselves having to provide classrooms at home. Who needs an ‘assistant’ more than they do? My staff and I decided we wanted to be that assistant.”

Of course, parents “who have experience doing research and narrowing searches of online resources – or enjoy doing it – may not need this service,” Mason understands.

“We hope to help patrons who feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of books and resources in the Montgomery County collections and aren’t sure how to target their searches to find items that it their kids’ interests and reading level.”

CFL is located at 301 Fayette St. Additional information about RMAI – as well as the program’s request form – is available online at www.mc-npl.org, via telephone at 610-825-1656 and email at conshylibrary@gmail.com.

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