Rebecca Clark wholeheartedly believes all children should have books.
As the center manager for Texas Neighborhood Services – Head Start and Early Head Start – in Boyd, she’s made a career out of promoting school readiness. She’s seen how invaluable books are as a tool for that.
“One of the most important things parents can do to prepare their children for school is to read to them,” she said. “We promote this by sending home reading logs with our children, but we have found that sometimes they don’t have access to books. They don’t always have them at home.”
So when she read about the access to books facilitated by lending libraries in a newspaper insert several months ago, she knew instantaneously she wanted to bring that book exchange system to children in her community in Boyd.
But with no carpentry skills, the idea stalled.
“So it became a pipe dream of mine,” she said.
A few months later, Clark presented the idea at a parent meeting. Luisa Horton, whose granddaughter enrolled in Early Head Start a couple of months ago, quietly stepped up, and her discreet efforts flourished quickly,
“My son (John Horton) knows a carpenter (J.R. Hamlett) so I called him and asked if he’d help build a cabinet. That’s essentially what these lending libraries are, to put books in,” Horton said. “A couple of hours later, he calls me and asks me to come take a look.
“It was perfect. It was better than what I had in mind.”
Before painting it, she enlisted the help of her brother, Jorge Iglesias, a roofer.
“I told him I had a 20×20 structure that needed a roof,” she said. “He showed up and started looking around. I told him, ‘I forgot to mention that’s in inches – 20×20 inches – not feet.'”
Along with a collection of books ranging from beginning readers and advanced chapter books to material in Spanish, Horton brought the enclosed bookcase to the school for the finishing touches.
“I thought about painting it all, but my son suggested having the kids paint their handprints all over it. That way, it’s theirs,” Horton said.
Clark says the students definitely have taken ownership. When the Little Free Library was set out earlier this week, most of the school’s 63 students took turns enthusiastially picking out books to take home.
But the library’s placement was a strategic choice so that others, not just the Head Start students, could access it.
“We thought about putting it in the foyer, but that would restrict it to the children in our school only,” Clark said. “So we decided putting it outside was even better because then it becomes available to all the children in the community.”
A community that has been thoroughly supportive, Clark added.
“Wells Fargo in Boyd will collect books to donate to this Little Free Library, and the school district has been wonderful in supporting Head Start and our endeavors,” she said. “It takes the community, and Boyd had really grasped hold of the community to come together and provide for those in need.
“It’s kind of how all community projects work,” she continued. “You start with a wonderful idea, and you don’t know how it will all work out. But you just need someone who isn’t afraid to ask for the resources to make it happen. And then it just happens.”
Although the project was derived from a popular lending library concept, Clark said modifications have been made to accommodate the concerns they see in their community.
“We decided to drop the ‘lending’ part, and go with ‘free’ instead,” she said. “Libraries are wonderful, but sometimes they’re a little intimidating for members of lower-income families who may have never used a library before – the whole system of looking up where the book is, finding it, checking it out and having to turn it in by a certain time before a fee is assessed. It’s only a nickel, a dime, but still.
“We don’t care if the book doesn’t come back. If they love that Dora book, or if they love that ‘Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?’,” they can keep it. Worst-case scenario, someone is exposed to a book they can read. That’s the way I see it.”
And like the organization for which she works, the Little Free Libraries promote more than just literacy.
“It promotes a sense of community and family building,” Clark said. “A lot of low-income families feel like the school knows what’s best in regards to their child’s learning. In reality, parent involvement is really the best indicator of a student doing well in school, whether it’s building a book-lending library or reading to the child every night or being available for that parent conference,” she says. “Like this Little Free Library, something so little can have such a big impact.”