ENP has made a significant investment in addressing literacy in our city. Literacy Mentoring has taken off at several schools, with both one on one and group literacy support. As we continue in this work we know we have to address literacy from several fronts so we are excited about this new literacy initiative.
Free Little Libraries.
One of the biggest challenges for low-income families with regard to literacy is the lack of access to books in the household.
Sixty-one percent of low-income families have no books at all in their homes for their children. That includes children and adult books! What we know is that the only measure that correlates significantly with reading scores is the number of books in the home. An analysis of a national dataset of nearly 100,000 United States school children found that access to printed materials—not poverty—is the “critical variable affecting reading acquisition.” This is not just a home issue, but a neighborhood issue. One study found that in middle-income neighborhoods the ratio is 13 books per child; in low-income neighborhoods, the ratio is one book for every 300 children. (1)
The good news is that we can change that!
One small, rural community is inspiring us at Every Neighborhood Partnership to step up our game!
Melissa Bergen of Shafter, CA began serving at Iglesia Compañerismo Cristiano during the Summer of 2011. She noticed that transportation to the library, library fees, and documentation status were becoming barriers to getting books into the hands of kids she worked with. In conversation with one of the local librarians, they learned of the Little Free Library movement.
Conversations quickly picked up between Education Partnership Director for the City of Fresno and local church members at Shafter Mennonite Brethren Church. What started as one Little Library quickly grew to 10 Little Libraries, and at last count is now is 22! The libraries have been installed at private homes, 4 public parks, a Regional Transit bus stop, a church, the Shafter Learning Center, the Shafter Youth Center and the Shafter Recreation and Parks Department.
Many community members have participated. Handymen have been recruited to build the libraries. School books are recycled instead of thrown away. Middle-class families with an abundance of books are buying and donating old books to join the effort. Kids now have something to read that is easily accessible.
This past week Melissa asked Tomas, “What are you looking forward to for Spring Break?” Tomas replied, “My Mom will be working so my brother and I will be home in the house all day.”
“What are you going to do all day?” Melissa asked.
“Do you have any books? We want to read.” Tomas replied.
A delighted Melissa. “Sure, I’ll bring some by for your Little Free Library!”
Libraries are now being built to be on city property and maintained by the City of Shafter. What started as an idea has become a community resource.
What we love about this concept is that it moves beyond literacy to building neighborhood connections and community resources. Little Free Libraries sees the beautiful assets in our city and says let’s work together to address our own challenges!
For example, Shafter’s Little Free Library network is a partnership with the City of Shafter, the Richland School Libraries, The Shafter Library, Friends of the Shafter Library, every civic club, the City Council, two churches, private families and countless individuals in Shafter! What a picture of community building.
With that… we have exciting news. ENP is partnering with a new initiative called Literacy Fresno. It is still in the works, but our goal is to have a free little library in every neighborhood of Fresno. Stay tuned!