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Storytime in Fairfield

New youth services librarian finds ways to engage kids in reading

Fairfield Public Library’s new youth services librarian Alecs Mickunas reads a book to a group of first-graders in the Fairfield Community School District, who were meeting at Fairfield United Methodist Church Tuesday for off-site enrichment. Children pictured are (from left) Jackson Stremsterfer, Ledger Logli, Lincoln Logli and Sydney Stremsterfer. (Photo courtesy of Elly Stremsterfer)
Fairfield Public Library’s new youth services librarian Alecs Mickunas reads a book to a group of first-graders in the Fairfield Community School District, who were meeting at Fairfield United Methodist Church Tuesday for off-site enrichment. Children pictured are (from left) Jackson Stremsterfer, Ledger Logli, Lincoln Logli and Sydney Stremsterfer. (Photo courtesy of Elly Stremsterfer)
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FAIRFIELD — Fairfield Public Library has a new youth services librarian.

Alecs Mickunas has taken on the role previously held by Afton Pedrick, who resigned from her post over the summer.

Mickunas first developed an interest in librarianship when he studied Japanese language and literature at the University of Iowa as an undergraduate.

His interest in Japan began early in life, in fourth grade when he learned about Des Moines having a sister city in Japan. He began studying Japanese at Central Campus in Des Moines in 1998, and two years later while still in high school he traveled to Des Moines’s sister city in Yamanashi Prefecture, just west of Tokyo.

He said Fairfield’s sister city in Japan is also in Yamanashi Prefecture, and he hopes to foster that relationship through his role at the library.

Mickunas lived in Japan for two stints after high school, first as a study abroad student in 2006-2007 when he lived in Tokyo studying at Toyo University, and again from 2011-2014 when he return to the country to teach English at a rural school. While there, he developed a friendship with the teacher librarian at the high school, who got him thinking more about library studies.

“In Japan, I followed the American news closely, and I just had this sense that I could do a lot to help people in America, that I could do more good here than in Japan,” he said.

Mickunas describes his return to the U.S. as a “rough landing.” He knew he wanted to work with young people in some way, so he joined AmeriCorps and began working in the Des Moines Public School system.

Later, he worked at an intensive English language learning center where he helped refugees and other newcomers. He also worked as a substitute teacher for elementary and middle school students.

Alecs brings a wealth of experience working with kids and of library science to the job of Fairfield’s youth services librarian. During his time at the University of Iowa’s School of Library and Information Science, Mickunas worked in the electronic serials department of the main library, supported the acquisition of Japanese language materials with the Japanese and Korean Studies librarian, and conducted research on the subject of cultural translation as research assistant with Assistant Professor Iulian Vamanu.

Alecs received his degree from school of library science in May this year.

This month, Alecs is coordinating an annual event hosted by Fairfield Public Library called “When the Lights Go Out.” Local volunteers will dress as storybook characters and interact with children and families.

“This year we will host the event virtually for the first time, and I am very excited about using technology to translate this traditional program into the current service paradigm,” Mickunas said. “American libraries today are undergoing an even more fundamental transformation now than the period in which card catalogs were replaced by computerized systems and patrons began relying on the library for access to developing technologies and digital resources.”

Mickunas said he is putting his “whole life” into planning this event, which will be in late October around Halloween. He said he hopes to enlist as many creative people as possible from the community and hopes to make this the “greatest ‘When the Lights Go Out’ in recent memory.”

COVID-19 has limited what librarians can do for patrons in their building, but Mickunas has found a way to take books to children. For instance, though he can’t host storytime in the library, he has been able to do storytime activities with Fairfield school children at their various off-site enrichment locations, places they go on the days of the week when they’re doing online education instead of in-person instruction. One of those off-site locations is the library itself.

“We were under impression we couldn’t visit the students, but [Superintendent] Laurie Noll told me that it’s all right to visit the hybrid sites in-person as long as we practice social distancing and follow the safety precautions,” Mickunas said. “In the last three weeks, I’ve spent a total of eight hours visiting the elementary school kids at various sites throughout the city.”

Mickunas said librarians cannot know all the changes that are in store for society or the world in the 21st century, but they must always be ready to adapt and be creative, “just as we are now called to do in these unprecedented times.”