Literacy project sets up small free libraries in northern St. Louis

Change and Action for Racial Equity and Association of Community Organizations of St. Louis are working to promote literacy in North St. Louis by installing tiny libraries north of Delmar Boulevard.

The project is part of the national literacy organization’s Read in Color initiative Small free libraries, which encourages people to place book boxes in neighborhoods. The initiative aims to provide communities with access to more books by diverse authors.

Residents will be able to pick up and drop off lightly used books at one of four pop-up libraries in the northern neighborhoods of St. Louis, north of Delmar Boulevard – Covenant Blu, Vandeventer, Lewis Place and West End. In the coming months, six more small libraries will be set up in the Fountain Park, Academy and Visitation Park neighborhoods.

The two organizations began building the libraries in January with help from volunteers from the St. Louis Arts Chamber, AmeriCorps and other groups. Each colorful book drop can hold approximately 10 books. The educational nonprofit Ready Readers of St. Louis donated 300 books for adults and children to stock the library shelves. Residents are encouraged to take a book and replace it with another.

Tiny Libraries are the coalition’s way of helping reduce educational inequality, said Kisha Greenidge-Kader, founder of Change and Action for Racial Equity.

“Our goal for these little free libraries is really to encourage literacy in these neighborhoods, to inspire children and families to become lifelong learners and readers,” Greenidge-Kader said.

Community organizations and Change and Action for Racial Equity decided to work on the project to help neighborhoods north of Delmar Boulevard that have long suffered from inequality, little investment and vacant housing.

Research shows that children who do not master reading before starting fourth grade are more likely to drop out of school.

About 15% of third-grade Black students in the St. Louis Public Schools District tested proficient or advanced in reading, according to 2019 data from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Tiny libraries are unlikely to end systemic disparities in education, but placing reading materials in neighborhoods could give children a boost, volunteers say.

“I hope people read the books and that parents can take their kids off those computers and iPhones and take them outside where they can use the resource,” said Judith Arnold, program director and urban planner. community organizations.

Educators say many children in low-income neighborhoods struggle to become avid readers. Some don’t have transportation to libraries. Others often don’t read at grade level, which can make children uncomfortable reading alone or aloud.

Arnold and Greenidge-Kader hope that small libraries will reduce barriers to literacy and promote book ownership.

“We can no longer afford to work in silos and work alone,” Arnold said. “We all have to work in unity on projects, we have to fundraise together, we have to see the seven neighborhoods as one group.”

By the end of the year, Change and Action for Racial Equity plans to place 50 small free libraries across St. Louis and St. Louis County in neighborhoods that have many vacant homes and are not close to public libraries.

Follow Andrea on Twitter: @drebjournalist

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