Little Libraries, Big Literacy


Little Libraries Big Literacy | Rochester MN Moms Blog
Have you ever been completely sucked in by a book?  Have you imagined a bow and arrows on your back as you plot out your strategy for winning The Hunger Games like Katniss Everdeen or fantasized about taking a long solo hike where you can dig deeply into the issues around a struggling relationship like Cheryl Strayed did in Wild?  For me books have always been an important part of my life.  My mother read books constantly and had many paperbacks with wavy, crispy pages from her nightly bath.  I have only realized it now as an adult, but she was modeling good reading habits for me.

When I was young my parents and others read aloud to me from children’s books that introduced me to worlds and characters that opened up my imagination. My childhood bedroom bookshelves were filled with fairy tales, classic literature and educational books. Later my reading taste developed and I discovered popular late 1980’s pre-teen book sets. I would read through them at a rate so fast that my mom and I would have to take almost weekly trips to our local used bookstore. Even as an adult I am a voracious reader. I unfortunately no longer have the time to devour multiple books in one day, but I try to keep my Kindle app stocked with good reads.  I credit my early introduction to reading for my strong imagination, intense curiosity and diverse vocabulary. The fact is, I had constant access to books and I benefited greatly from it.

Not every child has easy access to books or reading role models in their life. Now, bear with me here as I am going to throw some statistics your way, but they are staggering and worth sharing:

  • Children in low income families typically are read to for only 25 hours by 1st grade compared to 1,000 hours for a middle income child.
  • 61% of low income families have no books at all in their homes for their children.
  • Communities ranking high in achievement tests have several factors in common: an abundance of books in public libraries, easy access to books in the community at large, and a large number of textbooks per student.

Scholastic Family and Community Engagement Research Compendium, 2013

The most successful way to improve the reading achievement of low-income children is to increase their access to books. This summer my Leadership Greater Rochester class created the Rochester Mini Library Program and installed 40 neighborhood sharing libraries throughout the city.  The goal of the program is to provide free access to books for children throughout the community. Each library is stocked with a variety of books that are meant to be taken by neighbors and either returned or kept.  Yes, you are allowed to keep books from these libraries! Likewise, if your home is being overtaken by books, leave a few in a library to share with your neighbors.

My family has a mini library in our yard.  We live directly on a popular recreational trail where people ride bikes, walk dogs and fish from the shore of the lakes.  In this location, we are able to see Rochester’s amazing global diversity, which has inspired us to put up our library and provide books to neighbors and visitors to our neighborhood. By hosting a mini library we are not only increasing access to books for others, but we are also serving as reading role-models for our own children.  Both of our kids enjoy checking on our library and restocking it with their old books.  Sometimes we even find new books for ourselves that neighbors have left behind in the library.  The experience is truly a win-win for everyone! Do you have a mini library in your neighborhood? I encourage you to visit one and find a book that will suck you in to some new world or characters!

For more information and the location of Rochester’s mini libraries, please click here.

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Jessica Schmitt
Jessica has lived in Rochester since 2000 with her husband, Mike, and their two children –Benjamin (2005) and Lucy (2010). After spending time living abroad in southern England and experiencing a truly walkable/bikeable city life, she became frustrated with the car-centric design of Rochester’s streets. Since then she has become very active with volunteer groups in the community. She can often be found commuting around town coaxing her oldest child to confidently ride on the streets of Rochester and with her youngest strapped to the front of her beloved orange commuter bicycle. When not biking or advocating for biking, Jessica enjoys giving back to the community in many ways. She teaches a digital photography community education course called Momarazzi Photography and recently had a leadership role in a community impact project with her Leadership Greater Rochester class to install free mini libraries in the yards of 40 Rochester homes. She works full time at Mayo Clinic as a Program Manager in Education. You can follow her thoughts on all things #rochmn and #bikerochmn on Twitter and Instagram.