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A World of Possibilities

2014 Ogden Leader tackles child literacy with service project

It’s probably safe to say that most of us take our local public libraries for granted—particularly the access they provide, free of charge, to an ever-expanding array of electronic resources. In the digital age, public libraries can offer their constituents everything from online job training courses to historical archives, from language-learning tools to educational games. 

Someone who doesn’t take this for granted? LSU Honors College rising junior Kurt Ristroph, winner of the 2014 Roger Hadfield Ogden Leaders Fellowship. The Ogden Leaders Program awards up to five LSU Honors students with up to $5,000 to fund a self-guided service or research project with relevance or benefit to the state of Louisiana.

Ristroph’s project proposal, titled “VOLUMEN: Volunteering Our Library's Universal Materials for Educational Needs” (volumen is also the Latin word for book) aims to provide Baton Rouge students with access to the electronic resources available through the East Baton Rouge (EBR) Parish Public Library. Ristroph hopes to connect area elementary and middle school students who are unable to visit the library regularly with the library’s electronic resources, which can be accessed anywhere, through almost any device, with an internet connection.

“Many children in East Baton Rouge Parish today do not have the luxury of parental encouragement in literary endeavors,” Ristroph said. “Some parents are too busy to take their children to get their first library card, or to return to check out books regularly. Access to a library card opens up a world of possibilities to the bearer.”

Of the approximately 102,400 children living in East Baton Rouge, about 75,000 hold library cards—but only about 18,000 have used their cards in the last six months. “VOLUMEN’s goal is to increase the literary activity of children in East Baton Rouge,” Ristroph explained. “VOLUMEN will not only give students without cards access to readily-available materials—it will also raise awareness about these materials through promotion.”

Ristroph’s goal is to create roughly 9,000 EBR Parish Library “computer-only” cards that will provide the holder with access only to the library’s online or electronic resources. The cards will be distributed initially through EBR Parish public schools, but Ristroph hopes to ultimately involved area private, charter, and diocesan schools as well. Students will be able to “check out” a card from their school library or classroom, take it home, and use it to access library resources on any device with internet access.

In order for a minor under the age of 18 to obtain a standard library card, Ristroph explained, “He or she has to go to the physical library and have a parent’s consent, so the parent assumes monetary responsibility for any loss or damage of the books. You can’t destroy these online resources, so we don’t need the parent’s permission to distribute this resource.”

Since the VOLUMEN cards will be assigned to schools, not individual students, they will be available as a permanent resource. “Once [a student] returns [the card], someone else can check it out,” Ristroph said.

Printing of VOLUMEN cards should be completed by August, after which Ristroph will begin meeting with school librarians, distributing the cards, and implementing the program. By December, Ristroph plans to have reached every public school in EBR Parish.

Ristroph hopes that teachers will get involved as much as librarians.

“We really want the teachers in as part of this plan, so if we can get all the cards out and the project underway [by December], perhaps they can start implementing the cards in their lesson plans for the spring semester,” Ristroph said.

The Ogden Leaders Program was created to recognize and encourage ambitious and service-oriented LSU Honors College students. The program was made possible by a portion of a  $1 million gift made to the Honors College by Roger Houston Ogden in 2010.

In his application for the program, Ristroph, who is a double major in Chemical Engineering and Classical Civilizations, fondly recalled a childhood spent exploring his local public library. “When I was a child, I was fortunate enough to be in a family that supported my obsession with books,” Ristroph recalled. “Every few weeks, our mother would take my brother and me to the Parish Library. After an hour of searching, we would emerge, laden with as many books as we were allowed to check out.”

Ristroph explained that as an adult, he came to realize not every child has the opportunity to visit the library every week as he did—and this realization prompted him to create VOLUMEN. “Not everybody has that same home environment,” Ristroph said, “I thought that there was something that we could do to help those kids who can benefit from the online resources the library offers.”

Assistant EBR Parish Library Director Mary Stein, who assisted Ristroph in the planning process of VOLUMEN, noted that the Parish Library’s involvement is more than a cooperative effort—it’s recognizing and answering a need in the community.

“Kurt saw a need—children who are in schools all day but who have no way to get to their community library—and devised a method to meet it, by letting the students check out EBRPL cards from their school libraries,” Stein said. “I was struck by the elegant simplicity of the plan and look forward to seeing it implemented.”

Ristroph has advice for students hoping to apply for the Ogden Fellowship in the coming years: pursue something you’re passionate about, be detail-oriented, and begin planning your project well in advance of your application. Most importantly, he encouraged potential Ogden Leaders to seek help and advice from the Honors College staff.

“I always like to joke,” Ristroph said, “that it’s impossible to turn around in the Honors College without bumping into a resource, a scholarship, some friendly person in the staff, or someone very knowledgeable about exactly what I want [to know].”

Ristroph noted he would not have been able to develop and implement his VOLUMEN project without the Ogden Leaders Program, and especially without the support of the LSU Honors College.

“I realized pretty early on in my first year at LSU that the Honors College was going to be exactly the kind of community that I wanted out of the university,” Ristroph said. “I’ve really gotten to know all the resources and incredible opportunities available. They’ve helped me figure out what I want, where I want to be, and have given me the tools on how to get there.”


Story by Jacqueline DeRobertis, LSU Honors College

For more information, contact the Honors College at 225-578-0083.