Kent County Public Library pen pal program connects with New Zealand

By Mike Finney
Posted 2/26/24

DOVER — Robin Agar has done the unthinkable.

The longtime Kent County Library clerk has gotten children and adults to put aside their cellular devices and helped develop a burgeoning …

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Kent County Public Library pen pal program connects with New Zealand


DOVER — Robin Agar has done the unthinkable.

The longtime Kent County Library clerk has gotten children and adults to put aside their cellular devices and helped develop a burgeoning pen-pal program with a library in Wellington, New Zealand.

Ms. Agar’s “snail mail”-paced effort launched in June 2023 at the Kent County Public Library in Dover and is still going strong.

The initial pool of participating patrons has grown from 300 to more than 540 and continues to grow each week.

“We thought that we’d get maybe 15 or 20 people, tops, participating and (the growth) was a big surprise,” Ms. Agar said. “I don’t know if I was the brainchild or the crazy person who started it.

“It seemed like a good idea at the time over the summer reading program last year and it just kind of keeps growing. So we’re just going to keep rolling with it. It’s a lot of people having fun and it’s working out well.”

The program has now spread to nine other Delaware libraries across all three counties.

Adults, teens and children (at least 6 years old) are enjoying new friendships with people living on the other side of the world while savoring the anticipation of receiving their correspondence from New Zealand.

“It’s been amazing just talking to people and my counterpart (librarian in New Zealand),” said Ms. Agar. “We’re in touch frequently throughout the week, more so than just pen-pal letters.”

She said the participants are in awe of being able to find out about what is happening on the other side of the globe.

“Just the differences … everything is reversed,” she said. “There’s a 17-hour time difference, the seasons are reversed … It’s just been a lot of fun seeing how everything is different in a different culture and the way things are handled as opposed to here.”

Around once every other month, a package is mailed from Delaware to New Zealand. The Friends of Kent County Public Library cover the cost of postage.

Then, in the months between Delaware’s mailings, a return package arrives from Wellington, New Zealand. Patrons typically have about two weeks to pick up letters and write responses.

Ms. Agar said that meaningful connections are being forged through the pen-pal program.

Because of its success, it has become the focus of a workshop at the 2024 Delaware Library Association Conference and has recently been recognized nationally by the American Library Association as a model pen-pal program.

Ms. Agar’s pen-pal idea blossomed after she had previously gathered cards from libraries on all seven continents and all U.S. states and territories and displayed them — along with maps — in the children’s section of the Kent County Public Library on South Red Haven Road to celebrate the 2023 Summer Reading Program theme “All Together Now”, where it received much attention.

Hilary Welliver, director of the Kent County Public Library, is a pen-pal herself.

“It’s funny that it just keeps on growing,” Ms. Welliver said. “Every time that we think it’s going to plateau, it keeps growing. I think it’s over 540 people now, all ages, and they are so excited when materials come in here in Delaware and I know they’re excited when they get them over in Wellington, as well.”

Ms. Welliver said she knows she has something special in Ms. Agar, who is a part-time contracted employee of the library.

“She’s so creative and innovative. She’s really dedicated,” she said. “She comes up with great ideas ... she’s just something wonderful.”

Ms. Agar is even in charge of carefully pairing up patrons with a pen pal in New Zealand.

For individuals who would like to take part, registration forms are available at Kent County Public Library’s front desk. All children under the age of 18 must have signed parental consent to participate.

More than just letters

Ms. Agar is familiar to many families throughout Kent County as “Miss Robin,” the storyteller who leads Kent County Public Library’s well-attended weekly preschool story time every Thursday at 10 a.m.

She recognizes the importance of early childhood literacy and coordinates the library’s “1,000 Books Before Kindergarten” reading challenge, with support from the Friends of Kent County Public Library.

In fact, her weekly story times with children is her favorite part of her job.

“I do love story time with the kids,” said Ms. Agar, who has worked at the library for more than 10 years. “I love watching (the kids) change because I’ve been doing this for a couple of years now and I’m watching how they grow.

“It’s funny how some start off not necessarily interested in books, but by the time they’re starting in kindergarten, they’re really true readers, and that’s a great thing to see.”

Ms. Agar also records the library’s “Dial-a-Story” (302-741-4171), where her stories are changed frequently, and the service is free and available 24/7 for everyone calling in from anywhere — no library card required.

In addition, she initiated and videotapes the library’s annual Countdown Crafts series, an online video program with craft tutorials posted every day in December.

She is also the creator of the Delaware Head Huggers, a charity that makes and donates chemotherapy caps to cancer patients throughout the United States. Kent County Public Library is its main drop-off site. She is also a dedicated wildlife photographer in her free time.

Staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at 302-741-8230 or
Follow @MikeFinneyDSN on X.

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