On the east wall of the room housing children's books at Beale Memorial Library downtown, a big white banner chronicles an epic countdown.
It is a public declaration of an ambitious project. Librarians Elizabeth Stewart and Susan Palm have vowed to read all 9,000 chapter books in the library's children's fiction collection by Feb. 1, 2015.
They've divided up the authors in alphabetical order. Stewart will read A-L and Palm will read M-Z. That's 4,500 books apiece, ranging from early reading to high school novels.
The project kicked off on Feb. 1, and so far they're each about 10 books in.
The idea is to obtain first-hand knowledge of the mammoth collection so they can make more informed recommendations to children.
"The first rule of a librarian is to know your collection," Stewart said. "It will be nice to be able to say honestly to someone, 'You should read this. I've read it, and it's really good.' Or maybe something is checked out and I can say, 'If you like that author, try this one who is similar.'"
The ambitious undertaking was Stewart's idea. Years ago at Bakersfield College she had set a personal goal to get through the BC library's adult fiction collection.
"I got through all the As and Bs but never finished," she said. "I had a really heavy course load."
The latest endeavor started out in the same vein as a personal goal, but when Stewart confided in Palm about it, her co-worker demanded in on it.
"It's just a really cool idea," Palm said. "It forces you out of your comfort zone. Like I don't really read all the boy stuff about sports and all, but now I'll be reading those, too."
The one-year deadline was sort of arbitrary. They just wanted to have a clear goal, fearing that if they left it open-ended, they'd never finish.
The banner is another effort to hold themselves accountable. As they progress through the collection, they plan to post their numbers. The banner also will have pictures of book covers here and there to highlight titles the librarians particularly enjoyed.
"We want to call attention to some overlooked books that aren't necessarily classics you're exposed to at school," Stewart said.
Maria Rutledge, a supervisor at Beale, applauded the librarians for taking on the project.
"This is something they're doing on their own time when they're not working, and it's going to help them to serve our patrons better," she said.
At the library Tuesday, high school students Emiliano Varela and Juan Ambriz were amazed by the effort.
"I don't read that often," said Ambriz, 15. "That would take me years."
Carolyn Thompson, 53, was visiting the library with her teenaged son. She appreciates the pursuit of informed opinions.
"They'll be able to make recommendations truthfully, not just guessing," she said. "It's challenging, but it's really exciting that they'd even consider it."
Best of all, the librarians said they now have an excuse to get out of anything at home that they don't won't to do.
"I can always say I have to read for work," Stewart quipped.
Palm joked that children's books now haunt her every waking moment.
"Gotta read, gotta read," she chanted. "Takeout only. No dishes. Read, read, read."