Evanston Public Library presents new ASL storytime

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Molly Lubbers/The Daily Northwestern

Evanston Public Library librarian Kerry Littel reads a story aloud as volunteer Evelyn Keolian shows a group of kids the sign for hug in American Sign Language. They work together to provide ASL storytime at the Chicago Avenue/Main Street Branch of EPL.

Molly Lubbers, Assistant City Editor

The Chicago Avenue/Main Street branch of the Evanston Public Library piloted storytimes incorporating American Sign Language starting last week.

Free and open to the public without registration, the sessions are accessible, EPL librarian Kerry Littel said. There are two more sessions scheduled for Feb. 24 and March 2, 10:30 to 11:15 a.m.

“It provides an opportunity to learn a new language, and an opportunity for kids to play and interact with each other,” Littel said. “It provides an opportunity for people to feel included regardless of their background.”

Connie Heneghan, EPL neighborhood services manager, said the library is testing to see if there is an audience for an ASL storytime. As of now, there are no official plans in place to continue the program after the next two sessions, but she said the branch is excited about any opportunity to bring people together.

She added that there is an existing oral storytime on Mondays, and when they announced they were trying an ASL storytime, they received a positive response.

“We wanted to experiment to see how the community would respond because we’ve had some really good experience with doing storytime for Park School, and people from the neighborhood choosing to attend that,” Heneghan said. “So it’s the blending of people with different needs, but also to see if there’s interest in the community in an ASL storytime.”

Littel said she wanted to develop a storytime with ASL incorporated after beginning to learn it herself. Through a mutual friend, she met with Evelyn Keolian, who teaches ASL at Oakton Community College and is deaf. Keolian volunteered to sign stories while Littel reads aloud.

Keolian said the space offers not only a place for children, but also for parents like her.

“For me, I have kids, and when they were growing up, I never went to the library,” Keolian said. “I wasn’t able to enjoy the storytime, so why would I bring my kids to the library? I read to my kids at home, but it wasn’t accessible for me.”

Littel and Keolian don’t only use books during storytime. They also sing and sign songs with the children and do activities related to a certain theme, like “colors,” “clothes” and “family.” Littel said they chose themes that relate to concepts familiar to children in their daily lives, so they can also connect a sign to those ideas.

Keolian added that children learn by playing, which is why they go beyond books.

“For me, reading is great, but they’re not going to remember the books,” Keolian said. “They’re going to remember the playtime, and that’s what they’re going to look forward to.”

The Monday session focused on Valentine’s Day, featuring books about love. Attendees also learned the sign for “hug,” among others.

Littel said she is excited to see what the children remember at the next session on Feb. 24 and looks forward to having fun with them.

“My favorite part is the smiles from the kids, as well as just their coming back week after week,” she said. “Seeing that they’ve grasped onto something and they remember it and are doing it, and actually practicing it with their parents, that’s one of my favorite things.”

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