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News Release

For immediate use 

July 13, 2005 -- No. 313

Photo note: To download a photo, see end of story.

New library at homeless shelter
wins top honors for UNC students

CHAPEL HILL — The lending library that four University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill students created at a local program for the homeless is a hit with more than the children and mothers it serves.

Cindy McCracken of Cary, Meg McGinn of Arlington, Va., and Shauna Griffin of Carrboro – who graduated in May – and Kristen Boekelheide of Carrboro, still a student in the school, won international honors for establishing the 240-book library.

The Special Libraries Association awarded the students first place in Outstanding Leadership by a Student Group and third place in Innovative Programming by a Student Group. The association’s more than 12,000 members in 83 countries include corporate, academic and government information specialists and 39 student groups in North America.

"We were competing against student groups from all over the United States and Canada," said Rebecca Vargha, librarian for the UNC school and adviser to its student group. "I think this is the first time we’ve ever placed first."

But for Vargha and the students, their reception at Homestart, on Homestead Road in Chapel Hill, was the best reward. Before the students could unpack boxes and load the library cart at an unveiling event in April, children were gathering to see the new books.

"We didn’t really know what to expect, so it was overwhelming to see so many children clamoring for books, asking how they could check them out and sitting together to read," said McCracken. "I don’t know that I’ve ever seen so many kids so excited about reading."
The books ranged from early readers to books for teens and adults. Children and their mothers eagerly selected books from the new library.

"We put out a table of cookies, and nobody touched that," said McGinn. "The children went straight for the books. We weren’t even sure that they would be enthusiastic about reading. The outcome was certainly more than we expected."

They began the project last fall, writing a proposal and winning a $300 service grant from the Carolina Center for Public Service at UNC. An anonymous donor to the school matched those funds.

The students proceeded to whip up enthusiasm for the library across the UNC community. Faculty, staff and students – not only those in the school – donated money and books. So did librarians from other parts of campus.

"It was a great project, because it just grew," McCracken said. "Everybody who heard about it got excited about it."

The North Carolina chapter of the Special Libraries Association donated money and books. The students negotiated a discount with the Borders Books store on U.S. 15-501 near Chapel Hill. Purchases there and donated books totaled about 240 – far exceeding the students’ initial goal of 40.

The students also worked with the Orange County Literacy Council, which offers workshops at the site to promote reading. They trained HomeStart staff and residents how to determine future purchases and keep the books organized.

"The families of HomeStart are very excited to have their own special new library of fun and engaging books," said Laurie Williamson, HomeStart program coordinator.

"The library holds a broad range of interesting books and audiotapes for varying age groups and offers a wonderful outlet of discovery and learning for children and youth. These books are also a source of connection for children to interact with one another, their mothers and community volunteers."

HomeStart, operated by the Inter-Faith Council for Social Services, provides emergency and longer-term housing to homeless women and children, serving 45 to 60 people daily. The program also collaborates with community agencies to provide services including employment assistance, parenting workshops, counseling and childcare services.

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Note: McCracken, of Cary, can be reached at; McGinn, at; Griffin, at;  Boekelheide, at; Vargha, at 962-8361 or

Inter-Faith Council for Social Services contact: Laurie Williamson, 338-2427

School of Information and Library Science contact: Wanda Monroe, 843-8337 or