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Enlighten Me: Wilmington Public Library adds 'swagger' to reading

Sophia Schmidt
Delaware Public Media
Kadir Nelson speaks at the Wilmington Public Library

Delaware Public Media recently reported on renowned artist and children’s book author and illustrator Kadir Nelson's work being on display at the Wilmington Library, and Nelson’s visit to meet with local students.

In this week’s Enlighten Me, Delaware Public Media’s Sophia Schmidt talks to Nelson about engaging children and to the head of the Wilmington Public Library, Jamar Rahming, about that institution’s role in the community, especially connecting with kids.

As libraries throughout the state expand the services they provide residents, the Wilmington Public Library is trying to engage readers with high profile guests and innovative literacy programs.

Jamar Rahming has directed the Wilmington Public Library on Rodney Square and the North Wilmington Branch on N. Market St. since last April. He has already brought in nationally acclaimed artist Kadir Nelson— and hopes to invite former "Reading Rainbow" host LeVar Burton to speak at some point.

Rahming paints the library’s role in the community as wide-ranging.

“We’re just trying to sow as many seeds as we can to reap a harvest of a well engaged and a well literate citizenry in the City of Wilmington,” said Rahming.

Rahming says that means providing sanctuary for people experiencing homelessness in Wilmington. “We have people who are homeless, that get a reprieve from adverse weather conditions, that come here and use our space.” He adds that the opioid crisis has “trickled” into the Wilmington Public Library, with several overdoses occurring in the building’s restrooms.

He says the goals of library events range from improving clients’ economic prospects to helping them become more politically engaged citizens.

“We invite our city council here. Our mayor comes here consistently, so that our constituents can interacts and engage with them and be well informed,” said Rahming.

He adds that helping clients become information-literate is important in the digital age.

“The library once had a role to give people books and give people information. But we now have a critical role to ensure that our constituents are literate. That they know what’s authoritative, and what’s not. What’s fact and what’s fiction,” said Rahming. “Because they’re making decisions. They’re going to the polls and they’re voting. How do they know that the candidate that they’re voting for has their best interest at heart?”

In April, the library will partner with Alvin Irbyto launch a Barbershop Books initiative in Wilmington. Rahming says thirty barber shops in the city will receive books to give out free to kids getting their hair cut.

“What it does, it promotes early literacy. It kind of adds a swagger to reading, it makes reading cool and makes reading fun,” said Rahming. “That’s one thing that we’re striving to do is add swagger to reading.”


Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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