Christina Jurusik wants Starkville and Oktibbeha County children to love reading as much as she does.
“It’s my way of having fun (and) experiencing things I couldn’t experience any other way,” Jurusik said. “It’s a way to explore and have adventures. If you’re in a bad situation, it’s a way to get out of it. It really helps if you have a good imagination.”
Growing up at Starkville Academy, Jurusik could be found reading whenever she had a spare moment. She also spent several years of high school working at the Starkville Public Library. Now, Jurusik has returned home to share the gift of reading with the next generation.
Jurusik is the new children’s librarian for the Starkville-Oktibbeha County Public Library system, overseeing children’s programs not only in Starkville but also Maben and Sturgis.
Ginny Holtcamp, library system director, said the system is unique compared to other library systems which spread across multiple libraries. As children’s librarian, Jurusik is responsible for placing book orders, preparing grants for children’s programming and building an inviting atmosphere, Holtcamp said.
Jurusik carries a double master’s degree in library science and information science from Indiana University and an undergraduate degree in classical civilizations from Emory University. Holtcamp said she believes Jurusik’s strong education, bubbly personality and enthusiasm for children make her a worthy successor to retired 10-year veteran children’s librarian Laura Tramel.
“We’re very fortunate to have such a well-educated children’s librarian,” Holtcamp said. “Not every (library system) is able to attract this caliber of well-educated person to this position. We had a lot of applicants for the job, but it became crystal clear — as soon as Christina called, I knew. She was really the outstanding candidate for the position.”
One of the system’s key programs for children is a weekly story hour, held Thursdays at 10 a.m. For her first story hour this past Thursday, Jurusik prepared a “camping” theme, wearing binoculars around her neck, playing ambient cricket noises through an alarm clock radio and telling stories about her own camping adventures.
“I just dressed (like I would for a camping trip) and thought back on fond memories of camping with my parents — and the goose that snuck into our tent,” Jurusik said. “That was entertaining.”
One reason Jurusik said she enjoys entertaining children so much is because they entertain her. Sometimes, she said, working with children can feel like an episode of Bill Cosby’s “Kids Say the Darnedest Things” come to life.
“Kids have such a unique view on the world and how the world should work,” Jurusik said. “It’s so much fun just to sit down and talk with them and just listen to what they have to say. It kind of puts things in perspective sometimes.”
Jurusik said she wants to continue the library system’s history of imbuing each story hour with a unique theme and creating a themed summer reading program each year. She said she also wants to revive a book club for grades 4-6 that was put on hiatus after Tramel’s departure, and she hopes to bring it back by December or January.
“(The library system has) done a lot of fun stuff with Laura,” Jurusik said. “It’s going to be hard to live up to that. From talking with (the other library staff), they’ve been great. They’re all really gung-ho to start the program up again and keep the programs going at the library.”
Jurusik said she also wants to create more programs for grades 1-3. She sees a gap in programs for that age group, she said, and she wants to meet the challenge of filling that gap.
“I thought a little bit about doing a book club, but at that age, reading levels are so spread out,” Jurusik said. “I talked to a woman the other day (who) said her little boy in first grade is reading on a third grade level, (but) some kids are at that first grade level. If I do a book club, I have to find a book for everyone at (every) level. That would be very tricky.”
Jurusik said one of her primary goals is to raise the literacy levels of all the children she comes in contact with. By increasing children’s reading comprehension and getting children excited about reading, she said, she believes she can make positive marks on those children’s futures.
“Once you learn to read, you can learn to do just about anything, because you can read about it,” Jurusik said. “It’s an uphill slope from there.”