As a child, Ericka Carr was the quiet girl who, while her classmates kicked soccer balls and ran around during recess, tucked her nose in a book.
As Merced County's new children's librarian, the 40-year-old is charged with nurturing another generation of bookworms. "Reading is your passport to other cultures," she whispered, so as not to disturb the readers surrounded by walls and shelves lined with more than 10,000 books.
Carr took control of the kid's card catalogue at the Merced County Library at the end of July and is quickly trying to increase story-time attendance and overall readership among Merced County's youngest page-turners.
While pulling kids away from television, video games and computers for the crisp pages of a book is no novel idea, Carr said the habit of delving into literature begins with parents who show early on that reading is a beneficial hobby.
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Like Elizabeth Borba, for example.
The 40-year-old Merced mother brought 1-year-old daughter Maria to the library Tuesday afternoon to read to her, something she tries to do every week. Though Borba shares stories with the wide-eyed girl at home, the library is a quiet area where she sees lots of people reading. "I want her to read books," Borba said. "They make you smarter."
But it's not just books that should be at home, the new librarian said. Parents should be observed reading magazines, newspapers and anything else to show the rewards of reading.
Carr said she became a card-carrying nerd by age 9 and begged her mom to drive her to the Concord library so she could check out stacks of books.
She earned a bachelor's degree from San Francisco State University and her master's degree in library science from University of Arizona in 1994.
Before coming to Merced for a quieter lifestyle, she worked at Los Angeles County Public Library and Burbank Public Library. Now that her daughter is nearly 2 years old, she took the job with the county, earning between $39,228 and $47,700.
Head librarian Jacque Meriam said Carr's position had been vacant for nearly a year and that recruiting qualified librarians like Carr is hard in the Central Valley, either because of lower pay or hotter climate.
Since starting, Carr's been forging new programs like Barks and Books, where kids read to a dog, as well as planning a youth beading class that will be from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Oct. 9.
A top goal is bringing more children to story time. Carr said she wants about 50 children to head to the library to listen to a book being read. Only about 20 parents and kids usually attend. She's begun working the school districts to get the message to students and hopes word of mouth helps.
Carr's favorite children's book is "A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeleine L'Engle because she can identify with the awkward girl who discovers that her faults end up becoming benefits.
For Merced's newest librarian, her knack of poring through books as a child will now benefit hundreds of Merced's children.
Reporter Scott Jason can be reached at 209-385-2453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.