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Two Birds with One Stone 

New program to build community, love of reading

In 2002, Colorado Springs will join dozens of cities across the nation as the Pikes Peak Public Library District introduces its first "All Pikes Peak Reads" reading and literacy program.

Modeled on Chicago's "One Chicago, One Book" program, "All Pikes Peak Reads" will encourage everyone within the Pikes Peak Public Library District to read and discuss the same book, Harper Lee's classic To Kill a Mockingbird, beginning next fall.

"We hope to entice a wide variety of readers -- from young to old, those with means and those with few means, those of diverse cultures and languages, and those of different social viewpoints. The project is intended to bring together a community with all its differences and encourage a basic tenet of American life -- the right to read," said Patrick Losinski, director of the PPLD.

According to the New York Times, the original idea for the citywide reading program is credited to Nancy Pearl, a librarian in Seattle, who came up with the idea after receiving a grant four years ago. "It's based on the noble idea of community," said Pearl. "My noble idea was that people would come together who would never come together any other way."

Colorado Springs will be the first city in Colorado to implement such a program, says Losinski, who has stayed in close contact with Mary Dempsey, the commissioner of the Chicago Public Library District as he has developed the "All Pikes Peak Reads" program.

The PPLD chose to follow Chicago's lead in selecting To Kill a Mocking Bird so they could get the program started as soon as possible. Chicago offered to let the PPLD use the support materials they had developed, which include reading guides, guidelines for discussion groups, and support literature from experts on the book.

Like Chicago, the PPLD will also have to purchase hundreds of copies of the book to meet the surge in demand that will result from the program, says Sheila Ferguson, the PPLD's community relations officer. Chicago Public Libraries purchased 4,000 copies of the book, and sales of the book went through the roof. During the program, To Kill a Mockingbird topped Publisher's Weekly's list of bestsellers. The PPLD will also carry copies in Spanish.

To Kill a Mockingbird, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961, has been a regular on school reading lists for years but has often been banned, and, to this day, continues to stir controversy for its use of a racial slur and its head-on portrayal of racial and civil rights issues. Chicago selected the book because it is acknowledged as great literature, it deals with many social issues and it is fairly easy to read.

Harper Lee's novel tells the story of Atticus Finch, a white lawyer in Alabama who defends a black man accused of raping a white woman. It is also a coming-of-age story that explores the ways in which a small community deals with social injustice. It was made into an Academy Award--winning film starring Gregory Peck in 1962.

Along with the PPLD, "the program will enlist the collaboration of both private and public sectors, with local library branches carrying multiple copies of the chosen book, bookstores promoting and selling the chosen book, school districts and other community agencies endorsing the reading program, and the support and participation of the mayor and other governmental agencies," said Losinski. Mayor Mary Lou Makepeace has already given her endorsement and support to the program.

Already on board is volunteer coordinator Calvin Otto who founded the Virginia Festival of the Book in 1994.

Above all, the "All Pikes Peak Reads" program is designed, like its predecessors, to get people away from their televisions and computer screens and into a book that will help develop community dialogue.

-- Noel Black

Editor's note: This story concludes the eight-week series on the nine recipients of the Independence Community Fund.

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