Casandra Norin poses briefly as she sorts through the children’s section Friday at Memorial Library. Norin arrived in Liberal less than a month ago to take on duties as the children’s librarian at Liberal Memorial Library. L&Tphoto/Rachel Coleman
Casandra Norin moves halfway around the world to take position as children’s librarian
By RACHEL COLEMAN
• Leader & Times
Casandra Norin is all about fun. Eight and a half years of teaching English to Chinese school children did not erase her love of songs, games and outdoor activities. Living halfway around the world from her husband and 4-year-old daughter hasn’t wiped the smile from her face.
Norin arrived in Liberal less than a month ago to take on duties as the children’s librarian at Liberal Memorial Library, and she hit the ground running. The new Thursday-night program for parents and children, “Family Place Library,” kicked off last week, and Norin was pleased to see more than 20 children arrive with their parents. The group spent an hour playing with educational toys.
“I don’t think learning ever has to be boring,” Norin said. “We took all the furniture out of the children’s library [for Family Place Night] and got down on the floor to play with the kids.”
Having spent most of the last decade working with elementary-age children in the Chinese school classroom, Norin said she enjoys the best of both worlds as a children’s librarian.
“I enjoyed teaching in China, but I realized that I probably didn’t want to get into teaching when I came back to the United States,” she said, noting that government requirements and heavy testing tend to eliminate everything she loved most about working with children. As a children’s librarian, “I don’t have to fill out paperwork. I can just have fun with them. I think every teacher would want to be a librarian.”
A native of the quad-cities area of southern Illinois, Norin “was always at the library” as a child.
“I can still remember our children’s librarian, Barb,” she said. “She recently retired. If I could be half as good as she was, I’d be doing the job right.” Though stereotypes often portray librarians as strict and a bit intimidating, “she was always friendly. She’d bustle around keeping the area in order — our library was a lot bigger than Liberal’s — and she’d greet us and smile. She was always happy to see you.”
After earning a bachelor’s degree in German at the University of Illinois at Urbana, Norin, went to work at an office job for the federal government. After two years in her cubicle, she decided to escape endless paperwork by going back to school. She earned a master’s degree in library science at Clarion University in western Pennsylvania.
“I decided I wanted to find out if I liked teaching,” she said, “and I wanted to do some traveling, so I went to teach in China.” A two-year stint lengthened significantly when Norin fell in love and got married. She and her husband, Feng Shan, have a 4-year-old daughter, Leini. While the family awaits the completion of immigration paperwork, Norin stays in touch with her husband and child via Skype.
Substituting daily excursions to the park to fly a kite or ride bicycles together is not an even exchange, she said, but “they will arrive in a few months, so it’s not so bad.”
In the meantime, Norin has her hands full as she gets to know her new community. She is starting, she said, with the youngest and working her way up.
“The little children, preschool, kindergarten, the ones who have just learned to read — they love the books. I’d really like to see the older kids come into the library to read, not just use the computers.” A book club might be in the works for that age group, Norin said, and with the summer reading program soon approaching, she hopes to get to know more students in that age group.
For now, her focus has been preschool story time and the newly-inaugurated Family Place events.
“I really like games, but the kids here seem to like crafts,” she said. “So, I’m learning more about crafts. In summer reading, we will have a combination of crafts, activities, and, of course, reading.”
Norin’s philosophy is that “kids should be moving. They learn more that way,” she said.
In China, as in many Asian countries, students enjoy a short recess after every subject during the day. The sharp contrast to U.S. schools shows up in nearly every aspect of the educational experience.
While libraries do exist in China, they do not operate as the free public institutions in the United States.
“Very few libraries in China are free,” Norin said. “The town where I lived and taught, about 400,000 people, is considered a small town. They had a lot of private book rooms, where you would have to pay to borrow books. It’s not super-expensive, but it’s not free.” Chinese adults, she noted, tend to read on electronic devices, and printed books are less prevalent than in the U.S. Chinese school children can use libraries at their schools, but they often have little time to enjoy reading for pleasure.
“The students there have really structured lives. They don’t have any free time,” she said. “So, if they are readers, they read at every minute available.”
For students in China who worked hard to learn English, Norin incorporated music into her teaching method, an approach she hopes to include in library activities for young children.
“We sang a lot. We played a lot of games. I’m also itching to get my hands on the parachute I saw in the supply room,” she confided. “We could have a lot of fun with that.”
Though games, crafts and music can become messy and noisy, Norin is unworried about the potential chaos.
“That doesn’t bother me,” she said with a smile. “That’s why I’m the children’s librarian.”
Family Place Library program begins
The Family Place Library is a five-week, evening workshop for children ages birth to five and their parents. The program includes free play time for parents and children, who can explore the library’s recently improved educational toy selection, and time to consult with local professionals who serve as resources for parents. A relaxed format allows parents time to visit with the visiting “speakers,” ask questions and learn about local resources.
Visiting professionals scheduled for the next month include Steven Sitz, bilingual family trainer form Families Together; Kay Burtzloff, executive director of Seward County United Way; Elisabeth McAfee, La Leche League; and Holly McCarter, USD 480 Speech Pathologist.
Openings for the free program are still available. Sessions are scheduled at 6:30 p.m. each Thursday, April 18 through May 9. Registration is required. To sign up or get more information, contact children’s librarian Casandra Norin at
, or call at 620-626-0180.