Friends of the Library 2022 Scholarship Winner

The Upper Saddle River Friends of the Library and Allendale Friends of the Library are pleased to announce that Allendale resident Allison Chong, Northern Highlands Regional High School Class of 2022, is the recipient of their joint scholarship. All seniors enrolled at Northern Highlands are eligible for this $1500 award. Candidates submit an essay on how libraries have shaped their lives. Northern Highlands faculty members judge the essays and select the winner. Applications for consideration are available at the high school guidance office each January.

Congratulations to Allison! Read her award-winning essay below:

For as long as I can remember, the library has been a second home to me. I would tug my family to visit every weekend and sit amongst the bookshelves with rows of stories as my companion. They were portals to fantasy worlds where I could escape to somewhere dragons ran free and pirates sailed the open waters.

During middle school, I resolved to keep this love to myself. My classmates weren’t big readers, and I didn’t feel like forcing the topic into a conversation where it didn’t belong. However, the desire to connect with others like me continued to grow, as I eagerly dreamt of sharing the roller coaster of emotions I felt reading books I had recently picked from my library excursions, This curiosity led me to stumble upon online book blogs that people used to communicate their latest reviews and recommendations. I would silently read through, finding myself nodding in agreement over a character analysis or laughing at a joke made over a nonsensical plot point, but not interacting out of the fear that I would say the wrong thing in a sphere that mainly consisted of adults. In 8th grade, after spending months reading posts from my favorite bloggers, I spontaneously decided to create and design my own blog, “Universe Within Pages.” I wrote a review for each book I read, and I began conversing with others who commented on my posts, either in agreement or disagreement over something I had written. I discovered an alternate world where even those twice my age were genuinely respectful of me, and I could freely talk about my opinions on the latest fantasy book. Even though the members of our community cut across different ages, races, genders, and geographical locations) we shared a common connection in our love of books. There were times where someone may have found faults in a character I loved, but our mutual respect created a free environment without judgment, encouraging me to share even more of my thoughts.

A few months later, I discovered the world of “bookstagram.” Being a visual person, the aesthetic layouts and vibrant photos of book covers pulled me in immediately, making me want to read more about the poster’s thoughts in the captions. So, I started my own bookstagram in 9th grade. I wanted to make reading more of a sensory experience through my rainbow color-coded bookshelves and beautifully designed covers alongside warm cups of coffee. Through my page, I expanded my involvement in the book community to 14,000 followers, reading about people who found their new favorite book from one of my photos or felt inspired to read from a genre they had never tried before in the comments section. Being a part of the online book community has let me share in these intimate, personal experiences collectively. I can communicate with people from across the world, connected in our love for reading, in countries like Hungary or Australia, talking to a mother of two, a Dutch university student, or even a fellow high school student a few states away. Finding this community has expanded the restraints that reading sometimes had, from something of my
imagination to something more real and tangible.

Since then, I knew I wanted to get involved in making the library an important place for others, not just in the digital space I had, but in a physical one too. I began volunteering at the Lee Memorial Library by helping brainstorm and prepare weekly book-themed crafts for elementary school students. I researched projects that I found fun in the hopes of connecting with them. In one craft based on The Rainbow Fish, l watched kids decorate a fish outline using various cut-out paper “scales.” This activity made the ideas from a picture book come to life in a more tactile way. Afterward, I even saw a few kids perusing the bookshelves for similar books.

During high school, I started co-hosting the library’s Art Club, creating a fun environment for middle schoolers to hang out, giving them a creative outlet, and providing a space to meet new friends with similar interests. I also offered to tutor them in various subjects, making the library a convenient space to get free help.

The library has always been my home, and I hope that I’ve helped make it someone else’s as well.