Children's books tucked away on the library's second floor

By Tressa Versteeg

From Green Eggs and Ham to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang or Harriet the Spy, reading room 207 is full of childhood memories bound in both hardcover and paperback. The room, located on the second floor of the DeWitt Wallace Library, contains the Wood Collection’s 7,224 titles.The Wood Collection began in 1964, under the Wood Elementary Endowment. It is named after Stella Louise Hill Wood, born Sept. 2, 1865. Hill was an advocate for children’s education, especially kindergarten, in the early twentieth century. She dedicated her life to the cause.

Her accomplishments included serving as president of the International Kindergarten Unit, fighting against racial discrimination, and founding her kindergarten teacher training school known as Miss Wood’s School.

During the Great Depression, enrollment in her school plummeted due to a lack of teaching jobs. Enrollment also fell during World War II when women were called to the service of the armed forces.

After the war, Miss Wood’s School became overcrowded and facilities proved insufficient. This, along with her continued aging, threatened the future of school.

In 1948, the “Miracle of Macalester” occurred. On a proposition from Governor Luther Youngdahl to incorporate elementary teacher training into liberal arts college curricula, Macalester President Charles J. Turck invited Miss Wood’s school to move to the Macalester campus and continue its work as a part of the college.

She remained dedicated to elementary education until her death on Feb. 11, 1949.

According to Director of Donor Relations Deb Chaulk, a letter from former Director of Development and Public Relations Milton Smith, dated June 22, 1964, asked DeWitt Wallace to match donations made by alumni of Miss Wood’s school to “endow the Stella Louise Wood Memorial collection at the Weyerhaeuser Library for books, journals and elementary education curriculum materials” in an effort to make the endowment permanent.

In another letter, dated Dec. 2, 1964, and addressed to Wood School Alumnae Association President Elizabeth Hills, the collection was started to “further enrich our collection of children’s books emphasizing needs at the primary level to meet the needs of children moving into adolescence.”

The Stella Louise Wood Award was created in 1964, in addition to the endowment. This prize is awarded to a student interested in elementary education.

Chaulk also discovered that in May of 1979, the Wood program was almost discontinued, for, as another correspondence put it, “the abandonment of the building and the disposition of the equipment, materials and supplies used directly with children.”

Macalester decided against abandoning the program, issuing the statement: “Macalester College shall continue to maintain the Weyerhaeuser Library, the children’s book collection and curricular materials, and the College shall continue the scholarship program currently operative.”

New books have been added regularly since the collection’s 1964 start. Library staff member Carol King and others decide on which volumes to add by considering award-winning books, those related to current events, and any suggestions from students. The amount fluctuates each year. In 2006, 187 titles were purchased, up from 70 in 2005, and 46 in 2004.

“We try to be as broad in that collection as in our primary collection and not be too narrowly focused. I think we are getting better at doing that because there are so many things online. We pay attention to what’s going on in the media both positively and negatively,” Associate Director for Collections Angi Faiks said.

It has proved difficult to spend the endowment money each year, Faiks also pointed out. The collection’s endowment restricts the buying to books for the Wood Collection. The selection process became more difficult a few years ago when Macalester stopped offering full teacher certification. The need for books pertaining to children’s education, in which the Wood Collection specializes, has dropped considerably, while the endowment’s value has held. This presents a problem for the staff, whose main objective is to accommodate the campus’ curricular needs.

“The things in terms of the usage are tricky for us right now,” Faiks said. “Our collections are supposed to be responsive to the curriculum. While it [the Wood Collection] doesn’t take money away, it takes space and it takes time. So it is one of those things where we have finite space, finite people, finite time. Is this the best place to be putting our attention? Because the library’s resources are so precious, we have to think about all these things. What other things could we be doing in any given space? [The Wood Collection] doesn’t really meet a curriculum need, what do we do about that?”

A library-wide survey conducted this fall that evaluated every space and collection in the library countered this perception. The data collected show that the Wood Collection had 550 books checked out during the 2006-2007 school year, as opposed to 466 from the Harmon Current Collection Reading Room. This surprised Faiks, who considered the Harmon Room widely used, and the Wood Collection underused.

Another aspect of the data that Faiks said surprised her was the Wood Collection’s readership. Before, library staff assumed that faculty and staff were the most frequent visitors, checking books out for their children. However, the data showed that Macalester students use the space much more often.

Faiks wondered why students are the main users.

“Are these books comfort materials? Is it a cozy space?” she asked.

Students utilize the Wood Collection’s space in a variety of ways. Some use the space to do homework and read.

“It’s quiet and there are several seats so I can work with my friends,” Congcong Nie ’11 said, explaining why she enjoys studying amid the stacks of the Wood Collection. “Also, because it is cute.”

Sadie Cox ’11 and Catherine Reagan ’11 check out books for their radio show “What if Aesop had an iPod?” Every Saturday night and Sunday morning, from midnight to two, they read one or two children’s books over the air.

“Basically, the only books I have checked out from the library are children’s books,” Cox said.

Cox and Reagan have read “Curious George,” “George and Martha,” and “Ferdinand the Bull” and “Pierre,” among other books on the air this fall. In between passages, they air playlists that relate to the story.

“Sometimes the music will be the title, but most of the time it will be the lyrics or the emotions that go along with it,” Cox said.

Hannah Rivenburgh ’10 she uses the Wood Collection for both work and leisure.

“I like to study in here because it’s nice and quiet. I will be writing a paper or something and I get distracted when I see a book from my childhood and I get nostalgic. My friends and I like to come in here and read because it’s a nice atmosphere,” she said.

Faiks observed that students seem to claim children’s books as their favorite books.

“I find that people carry those things in their psyche for a very long time for different reasons,” she said.

Like a child’s education, the Wood Collection has had a lasting effect since it’s creation 40 years ago and has embodied values Macalester community members live by today.

As Wood once wrote, “We who love peace must write it in the hearts of our children.