Don’t tell North Branford’s Jane Ash, head of Children’s Services at Scranton Memorial Library, that a child might be playing too much.
“They needed to be up, moving around,” she says of the kindergarteners she taught in New Haven for 10 years. “Goals are important, but the emphasis they’re putting now on making sure they can test everything, they’re really taking away from teachers’ creativity and taking away from kids being able to be kids.”
Jane started out as children’s librarian at Scranton Library in late 2000. She doesn’t have a degree in library science. Instead, she has a master’s degree in early childhood education from Fairfield University. She taught preschool at the Branford Daycare Center, kindergarten at the YWCA Extended Day Kindergarten and Nursery School, and—for 10 years—kindergarten at Sacred Heart School in New Haven. It was the latter’s focus on academics over play that drove her away from teaching at age 40.
“My principal was not an early childhood person,” Jane recalls. “She said, ‘They’re playing too much.’”
While earning her undergraduate degree from the University of Connecticut in Storrs, Jane worked all four years in the college library. That experience perhaps prompted her second career: eight years as co-children’s librarian at the Blackstone Memorial Library in Branford—while working part-time at the Scranton Library on Sundays. When the position of children’s librarian opened up at Scranton Library, she jumped on it.
“Teaching is my passion,” Jane says. But, “This is a great way to combine my love of reading, my love of kids, and I can use all my teaching skills.”
With Jane, story time isn’t just story time.
“I try and add on some hands-on learning experiences that take the story a little bit further,” she explains. “This past week we did some stories about planting and then afterward I set up a variety of tables with different activities. They get to move around and do what’s interesting.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Jane has a big presence in the school system, too. It wasn’t always that collaborative, though. In 2009, Jane helped found Madison’s Early Childhood Coalition. The group consists of school and library staff who meet to discuss goals for Madison’s nursery school-age children.
“I was surprised when I came here that there wasn’t one,” she says of the coalition. “We had formed one in Branford. All the nursery school people got together and talked about goals; the library was part of that.”
Additionally, the library’s award-winning summer reading programs, its early childhood program Family Place, and its Chess Club owe their success to Jane. She also helped launch Story Walks, in which sections of a children’s book are pasted around a pleasant area for a stroll. Her sixth Story Walk, featuring the book If You Plant a Seed, is coming up at a library fundraiser held at the Country School on Sunday, May 21.
Jane’s achievements have not gone unnoticed. This year, she received the Connecticut Library Association’s Faith Hektoen Award for Career Achievement. From the professional acclaim of Jane’s fellow librarians who nominated her for the award to her enthusiastic reception from children and parents alike, it’s hard to find dissenters for her kids-being-kids approach.
For Jane, her present role is a culmination of all her interests.
“I get to be with the kids,” she says. “I read at all the nursery schools once a month. I’m around books, which is a love of mine. It’s a nice merger of the things I’m interested in.”
Perhaps most important is Jane’s impact on the kids whose lives she’s touched.
“We [the United States] always wanted to be the best, the fastest—other places they look at children differently and allow them to have a childhood,” says Jane, who has five nephews and a brother and sister in the Branford area, where she grew up. “They only have this one childhood. Why are we in such a rush to take this one childhood away from them?”
The Children’s Author Parade and Family Fun Day, a fundraiser featuring local children’s authors Billy Steers, Jane O’Connor, Natasha Friend, and Katie Davis and her husband Leslie Connor, is on Sunday, May 21 from 1 to 4 p.m. at The Country School, 341 Opening Hill Road, Madison. The event includes an ice cream truck, a bounce house, family-friendly band Sunny Train, a cupcake truck, face painting, crafts, a pizza truck, and a story walk. All proceeds benefit the Scranton Library’s Annual Fund. For info, visit www.scrantonlibrary.org.