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Denham Enjoys Role as Bellingham’s Children’s Librarian

Melissa Denham’s transition from schoolteacher to children’s librarian has been smooth.

 Staff Writer
Melissa Denham is approaching her one-year anniversary as the children’s librarian at Bellingham’s Public Library, and her transition from schoolteacher to her current role has gone smoothly.
Before joining the library staff, the 29-year-old Denham worked as a pre-kindergarten teacher and behavior specialist in Woonsocket’s Head Start program. During that three-year period, she instructed children in the 3-5-year-old range. 
“The change has gone very smoothly,’’ Denham said. “Running a pre-K classroom is very similar to running library programs and activities for children. My new position is all about planning activities for children and getting them to enjoy reading.’’
Denham, who started at the library as an intern in 2022, became the children’s librarian last August. She has her bachelor’s degree from Rhode Island College (RIC) in early childhood education and two masters degrees — one in early childhood special education from RIC and the other in library science from the University of Rhode Island.
“We’re thrilled to have Melissa on board as our new full-time Youth Services Librarian,’’ said Bernadette Rivard, the Library Director. “Melissa began an internship with us and was immediately hired as a part-time library staff member when the internship ended.  While working part-time, she brought a very well-received new Sensory Story Time to the children. 
“When the Youth Services Librarian position opened last year, I was excited that she applied, and the Trustees unanimously decided that she was the right person to serve the children of Bellingham.  We’re lucky to have her expertise and enthusiasm in providing library services to children.’’
Denham was the third person in her role during a 10-month stretch. Her enthusiasm for the position, however, is a signal that the turnover is history.
“I enjoy working with children, I’m passionate and comfortable about the job, and I love getting kids excited about reading,’’ Denham said. “Yes, I’m here long-term.’’
A native of North Smithfield, Denham has all the key attributes that children and parents would want in a youth services librarian. 
“I’m a good listener,’’ she said. “I’m welcoming, understanding, supportive and comforting. I strive to be helpful and I’m happy and positive. I want the children to know that I’m happy to see them.’’
Denham’s goals are admirable and could easily be a mission statement about her role.
“I want to build positive relationships with children and parents,’’ she emphasized. “I want kids to be eager to participate in the programs we offer, and I want to create a personable atmosphere where all children participate and feel welcomed.’’
Three programs Denham has continued to focus on are Ring a Ding, Baby Time and Alphabits. Ring a Ding involves lots of music and movement; Baby Time enables parents to interact with their children; and Alphabits is a weekly story time that involves discussing things and working on crafts that start with a specific letter of the alphabet. Denham has added Sensory Story Time, which is like a traditional story time but stresses an inclusive environment, movement, and open-ended activities. Safari Story Time is new and will be part of the summer reading program. It will emphasize conservation and recycling.
The library’s Summer Reading Program will begin later this month and continue to mid-August.
“The goal of summer reading is to make it fun,’’ Denham noted. “The kids will keep track of how many minutes they spend reading and will get prizes for a certain amount of time. Two hours will earn a prize, and higher amounts will also win prizes. Summer reading involves doing things that are fun and entertaining. I don’t want kids feeling that reading is a chore.’’
Denham and the schools in Bellingham will collaborate on what books will be available for summer reading. 
Besides implementing programs and activities, Denham fulfils maintains the children’s room book collection. “That’s been part of the learning curve,’’ she said. “During the mornings, I’m doing activities with toddlers and pre-school kids, but the afternoon is devoted to the book collection. It involves ordering books and updating the collection. It’s important to know what’s trending in children’s books.’’
Denham is delighted with the way children, parents, and library staff have welcomed her. 
“I felt very comfortable interacting with the staff when I was an intern,’’ she offered. “They’ve been supportive every step of the way. And, it’s great to have a director like Bernadette. She’s motivating and supportive. She answers any questions I have, and I’ve never worried about asking her anything I need clarification on.’’
The resident of North Smithfield is becoming familiar with Bellingham. “It’s a great place to work, and I’m getting familiar with the stores and restaurants,’’ she said.
Denham’s popularity is building and it’s easy to understand why.
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