It's a sales pitch, of sorts, but for something the customer needs, and it won't cost them a thing. The "salesladies" aren't on commission; they simply believe in the product they're selling.

It's a sales pitch, of sorts, but for something the customer needs, and it won't cost them a thing.

The "salesladies" aren't on commission; they simply believe in the product they're selling.

As Jess Harshbarger and Megaly Vazquez drop in at Laundromats, thrift shops, doctors' waiting rooms and other gathering points in the Northland area to make connections with parents of very young children, the two members of the Columbus Metropolitan Library's newest Ready to Read Corps say they find ready acceptance and real job satisfaction.

"It's absolutely enjoyable," said Harshbarger, the program leader for the third Ready to Read Corps, which began operating in November. "It is, I guess, sales, in that we have an idea and we want to sell it to the parents, but we believe in it, and that makes all the difference."

Her assistant, Vazquez, who has worked for the library for eight years, echoed that sentiment.

"It's so rewarding," she said. "It's an awesome experience."

Ready to Read is aimed at parents and caregivers of children from birth to 5 years of age. It is intended to give them the tools they need to help prepare their little girls and little boys to be, as the name implies, ready to read by the time they start school.

The Northland program was the third and final one established last year through grants from the Columbus Metropolitan Library Foundation, according to Harshbarger. The first one was aimed at the Weinland Park and Parsons Avenue areas and the second was in the Linden neighborhood.

The Northland Ready to Read Corps began operating on Nov. 1.

Each of the areas targeted has presented its own challenges, and the experiences of the earlier programs have helped shaped those that followed, said Harshbarger, a library employee for four and a half years who was previously with the Linden Ready to Read Corps.

"In Northland, the community is so diverse, that's kind of a challenge in itself," Harshbarger said.

"What works for one corps quite possibly won't work for the next corps," she said.

Initially, the concept involved holding workshops for parents in various locations throughout the community.

That didn't work very well, Harshbarger admitted. Parents were simply too busy to find time for something extra like a workshop, however laudable the goals might be. So the approach now being taken in Northland's case became the primary strategy.

One-on-one time with parents in likely meeting places seems to be the correct formula, in Harshbarger's opinion.

"We've been very well received," she said. "Pretty much all the parents we run into, they want the best for their children and they want them to succeed.

"Occasionally we run into a parent and it's the wrong time. We're not pushy. We want to have a conversation with them, and if they don't have time, we understand."

"We're always respectful of people's time," Vazquez said. "If they cannot talk to us, we just give them a flyer about a workshop they can attend at a later date."

Workshops are still part of the equation for the Northland effort. Some have been held at the Karl Road and Northern Lights library branches, as well as at the North YMCA. Harshbarger said that she and Vazquez want to establish partnerships with churches and other organizations in the Northland area to provide more workshop locations.

"My hope is to get some of those scheduled soon," Harshbarger said.

Their most important "sales" pitch, the Ready to Read Corps team members say they have found, is to inform parents just how much is expected of kindergartners.

Kindergarten is no longer mostly napping and singing songs, Vazquez said.

"That's what I remember doing," she added.

Children arriving at kindergarten are expected to know how to write their names and the letters of the alphabet. That often comes as news to parents, who remember their first year of formal schooling as being very much like it was for Vazquez.

"They say, oh, I didn't realize that," Vazquez said. "We have talked to parents who sometimes have older kids, teenagers, and then they have younger kids and it's surprising to them."

Within the next several months, three more Ready to Read Corps programs are to be established, one serving the Hilltop-Franklinton neighborhoods, another in Whitehall and the third for Groveport area.

"We're going to be around for a long time," Harshbarger said of the library's literacy effort.

For more information or to offer potential Ready to Read workshop sites, call Harshbarger at 479-3454. Her e-mail address is jharshbarger@columbuslibrary.org.