The history of the Little Free Library goes back to 2009 in Hudson, Wisconsin where Todd Bol built a small replica of a schoolhouse and filled it with books. He placed it in his front yard with a sign that read “Free Books” in honor of his mother who was a teacher and loved to read. Besides honoring his mother his mission was to promote literacy, reading, and to build a sense of community.
For a majority of Americans, accessibility to books does not cross their minds. We come into contact with books in school settings, at the library, and for sale in places ranging from bookstores to supermarkets. Unfortunately, many families in the United States do not have books in their households. When looking at some of the poorest parts of the country—such as Philadelphia—a study titled: Access to Print in Low-Income and – Middle-Income Communities: An Ecological Study of Four Neighborhoods, “found a ratio of one book for sale for every 300 children”. Most Americans do not consider books as fundamental as shelter, food, water, etc. but for “some 42 percent of American children — more than 31 million — [that] grow up in families that lack the income to cover basic needs like rent, child care, food and transportation” reading and books are considered a luxury. This inaccessibility to education through books, hinders their mental and socioeconomic development in life and creates barriers to social and spatial mobility. When considering the disposable income and/or time needed to afford books or access public libraries, our PIC group decided that bringing a free library to the students of North Gresham Elementary and people in the surrounding community would help to bridge this gap.
Our team and Little Free Library founders and stewards share the same mission; we want to connect a community by removing a barrier in the accessibility of books and to promote literacy and reading. Our LFL began with reaching out to our community for donations for our construction of our LFL. Through a GoFundMe account we were able to raise $120.00. Keeping with the mission of the LFL we looked to find used and recycled material. The construction of the LFL was a family and team affair; we each had an important part in construction of our LFL. One team member and her family gathered the materials and built the LFL. Once the LFL was constructed the other members used their artistic talents and painted it. One of the final steps into the completion of our Little Free Library was to fill it was books. With donations from friends and neighbors and communities members we are able to fill out Little Free Library with books. We have built and filled our Little Free Library but it hasn’t reached it final stop. We still need funds to insure a proper resting spot and installation at North Gresham Elementary School.
As a group, intercultural teaching and learning were important aspects and reflecting points for our project. We came to the realization that students in North Gresham come from different background, cultures, and lived experiences. Socioeconomic background and language were the two largest aspects our group wanted to sustainably impact. Our goal was to provide free books catering to diverse language and experience to the students at North Gresham and their community. The concept of “take one, read one, leave one, repeat” means that the community, and the Little Free Library steward Ms. McCarthy, are responsible for helping to make reading accessible to students who cannot afford books. While we were able to construct the LFL, accumulate a large amount of book donations, and provide Ms. McCarthy with a giftcard to supply the LFL with more books, we were unsuccessful in garnering donations of non-english books.
We were not willing to overlook the students unable to engage with english language books and that is why we were looking to secure books in multiple languages. Unfortunately The Children’s Book Bank, one of our generous donors, did not have Spanish or other non-english books because of the high demand and low supply. At the beginning of this Capstone Course, we were told that the 4th grade students in Ms.McCarthy’s class did not have access to books at home or library cards. While Books 2 You—a program in which librarians bring books not a part of the library’s regular collection to schools every two weeks and let kids choose fun reads from a table in the cafeteria. These schools are not responsible for their return and kids are also signed up for reading “rewards” programs—ran by Ebonee Bell and Cathy Schneider already had their maximum sites for the 2016-2017 school year, we wanted to help make Multnomah County Libraries accessible to supplement for the lack of non-english books in our Little Free Library.
To make county libraries more accessible, we created packets in English and Spanish that included an application for library cards, directions on how to fill out the application, resources available through the library, and a descriptive events calendar. Many library locations, especially the Gresham branch, focused on hosting events that catered to the Spanish speaking community. This includes ESL courses, classes that help individuals navigate computers and programs such as Microsoft Word, and a Spanish storytime. While we may not be able to correct transportation needs, Multnomah county library do offer books online, thru their multi-lingual website, which may be other options for students.
From day one, our PIC team was most concerned with the sustainability of our project; both in the construction and the community engagement of our project. Through the Little Free Library and bridging the gap between students and Multnomah County Libraries, we believe that we are taking the first steps towards making reading sustainable for this community. It was an honor to complete the beginning steps of this project and we are excited to see what happens once they reach the lives of students and the community surrounding North Gresham Elementary. The overall mission of the LFL is to connect communities and share the love of books. There are many LFL in your area and throughout the country, go to LittleFreeLibary.org and find one in your neighborhood.