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Hollis librarian moves on pledge to improve literacy

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For the last couple of years, Sueli Zaquem, the children’s librarian at the Hollis library, has taken huge steps to make sure her young students get the most out of the branch’s books, but this year she took her campaign to the road.

Zaquem, who has been at the branch for the last four years, kept her promise for her annual summer reading program and started her 20-mile walking tour Friday. The librarian said she made a goal to walk one mile for every 200 books the students in the program read in the summer, and she was delighted when they went the distance and completed 4,000 books.

“You have to give them an example. We have to show them that reading is fun,” said Zaquem, 51.

The 20 miles will be logged over several days of walking various routes throughout southeast Queens. The first three miles she walked Friday included a path that began at the branch, at 202-05 Hillside Ave., turned north on Francis Lewis Boulevard, turned west on Dunton Avenue and turned south on Foothill Avenue and then east back on Hillside Avenue back to the library.

The remaining mileage will be completed over the next couple of weeks.

In previous years, Zaquem’s reward to her students for their reading habits was that she would cut off her hair and donated to the charity group Locks for Love, which makes wigs for cancer patients.

This year, however, the Brazilian immigrant decided to be more health-conscious with her competition.

Zaquem said she began exercising and eating better after her doctor advised that her blood pressure was too high and she said she wants to instill that active lifestyle in the children in the neighborhood.

“People always ask me how can [I] get? so much exercise at your age, and I tell them you have to put effort into it,” she said.

Zaquem’s main focus for her children, however, has always been literacy, and she knows how valuable it can be from experience. She immigrated to New York in 1989 to learn English and her love for reading helped her to make progress with the second language.

“I always used to carry around a little yellow [English] dictionary and whenever I didn’t understand anything, I would take it out and look it up,” she recalled.

After she married, Zaquem decided to stay in New York and eventually got her master’s in library science from Queens College and began working in the Queens Library system.

Dozens of library users of all ages gathered at the branch to see her off during the first leg of her trek and many of them were amazed at her dedication.

“It’s great for the kids, and it’s great for the neighborhood,” said Ines Liautaud, who frequently visits the library with her grandsons.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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