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Her Mission: Nurturing bookworms PDF Print E-mail
Written by JOE POIRIER   
Wednesday, 31 January 2018 20:24

When she was a student at Grafton’s Kennedy Elementary School, Nicolette Birkholz loved to spend time at the public library next door. Now she works there, guiding young readers in the love of books.

    For Nicolette Birkholz, working at the Grafton Public Library is a return to her beginnings across the street where she attended Kennedy Elementary School as a student.
    “I used to come here a lot when I was little because the library was just next door,” she said. “I hope my experience growing up at the library will rub off on the kids by helping them develop an appreciation for reading.”
    Helping children become bookworms is Birkholz’s number one goal as the young adult and youth services librarian. She said talking to youngsters and hearing what they like to read is the most satisfying part of her job.
    “I’m constantly getting my education from children on what new things they are learning about literature in school,” she said. “Kids have a much larger circle than adults. We also talk about movies and music to help keep me up-to-date on the current fads.”
    Graphic novels are the latest trend in literature for teenagers and young adults, Birkholz said.
    “People typically think of graphic novels as your old comic books, but it’s much more complex than that these days,” Birkholz said. “Even adults have a graphic novel section at libraries and bookstores.”
    According to Birkholz, graphic novels are bringing back some of the contemporary classics in a revamped form to young readers.
    “A lot of old books are becoming popular again, such as ‘The Baby-Sitters Club,’  because cartoonists like Raina Telgemeier have illustrated them as graphic novels,” she said.
    In an effort to draw more teenagers to the library, Grafton and Cedarburg have developed a library teen advisory board that meets monthly to do volunteer work and plan special events such as a murder-mystery party or a cupcake war.
    “Teens love any activity where they can work and eat, because that’s considered a huge win for them. We figured out if we feed them, they’ll be here,” Birkholz said. “Teens are the hardest demographic to get, so we’re trying to pool our resources together to attract them to the library.”
    The board is currently planning a film contest for spring. Teams will have to write and direct a six-minute movie that will be shown at the Rivoli Theatre in Cedarburg to a panel of judges.
    “We hope to have every library in Ozaukee involved with it,” she said.
    When she isn’t busy alphabetizing stacks of books or reading stories to groups of kids during story time, Birkholz finds the time to read one or two books per week outside of work, from fantasy novels to the history behind current social issues. She said her favorite genre to read is young adult literature, especially stories by John Green, Ransom Riggs and Stephanie Perkins.
    “I think people who say young adult literature is a waste of time or it’s no good are seriously mistaken,” she said. “More often than not, what labels a book in the young adult category is the age of the character and not the content.”
    Birkholz also said adult writers like James Patterson tap into the young adult market.
    “James Patterson writes across the board,” she said. “His ‘Treasure Hunters,’ ‘Middle School Series,’ ‘Confessions’ and ‘Maximum Ride’ series are extremely popular.”  

    During her vacation, Birkholz frequents the annual YALLFest in Charleston, S.C., for young adult literature enthusiasts, where she meets authors and hears them give readings of their work.
    “Whenever I’m on vacation I have to visit a library or buy a book from a used bookstore,” she said.
    After graduating from Grafton High School in 2008, Birkholz went to the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay where she initially pursued studies in political science.
    “I realized that I didn’t want to work with lawyers. I loved reading and literature, so it seemed natural to study that instead,” Birkholz said, noting that she also minored in democracy and justice studies.
    “It sounds like I was studying to become a superhero.”
    During the holiday season, some kids might have thought Birkholz had special powers or certain connections when she collected their Christmas wish lists as Jolly the Elf during the Grafton Area Chamber of Commerce tree lighting ceremony.
    “I couldn’t go anywhere without being recognized as Jolly the Elf for about a week,” she said. “It was a little embarrassing but it was worth it to see the kids having a good time and it’s a fun memory to have.”
    Before joining the Grafton Public Library in 2014, Birkholz worked in the children’s section at Barnes &Noble at Bayshore Town Center in Glendale. She said working in retail is not as personable when compared to helping people in a library.
    “When you’re in a retail setting, and you suggest a book to someone after having a conversation with them, you don’t necessarily expect them to come back in to talk to you about it or see if they liked your recommendations,” she said. “When you work at a library, you’re in a community. I notice more and more people come back when they’re returning their books to talk about what they enjoyed in the story.”
    When she opens up the children’s section in the basement of the library, Birkholz said she experiences the same sense of comfort being surrounded by books that she had growing up.
    “Hands down, my absolute favorite moments are the mornings when I come in to open and I flip on the lights and they start to chime, and I think even the lights are happy to be at the library,” she said. “It’s a beautiful place to work and there’s definitely a whimsical element to it compared to the adult section.”

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