Little Free Libraries installed across Kalamazoo to improve literacy

by Chris Yu | News Channel 3Monday, August 9th 2021

KALAMAZOO, Mich. β€” A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held to launch the installation of more than two dozen Little Free Libraries across Kalamazoo.

Dionna Roberts, a teacher at Winchell Elementary School, and Kellen Deau, a teacher at the Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency, started the project to install 32 Little Free Libraries.

Each library consisted of a wooden box on a post, with paintings by local artists on the outside and free children’s books inside. Local authors and illustrators created the books, while D. Darnell of the Dapper Hammer hand-built most of the Little Free Libraries.

On Saturday, Roberts, Deau and supporters attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the project. They then installed 13 of the libraries at parks and other places across Kalamazoo.A spreadsheet shows the locations of Little Free Libraries erected in Kalamazoo as of Sunday, Aug. 8, 2021. The locations at Eastside Community Center, PFC, and Factory Coffee have not been installed yet. (WWMT/Courtesy: Dionna Roberts)

The only Little Free Libraries on the list that were not installed were the ones at the Eastside Community Center, PFC, and Factory Coffee. Roberts told News Channel 3 those libraries would be installed the following week. Roberts said they were waiting for confirmation on the locations for the remaining libraries.

Once installed, families were free to take whatever books they wanted from the libraries, with no obligation to bring anything back. Among those who took books from the Little Free Library at Upjohn Park were Jenna McDonald and her 8-year-old daughter, Zoe.

“This one has chapter books and picture books, so there are different books for all ages,” Jenna McDonald said. “So something might grab a little kid’s eyes and something might grab an older kid’s eyes that wasn’t expecting there to be a book on their level. So to have access to that whole variety, I think, helps with that.”
Free books are available in a Little Free Library in Kalamazoo. (WWMT/Gabe Balderramas)

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, Michigan ranked 32nd in the country on fourth-grade reading skills. The data was from 2019, the latest year it was collected.

Here in West Michigan, the Kalamazoo Literacy Council said 13% of adults in Kalamazoo County, or about 25,495, could not read, citing data from the National Institute for Literacy.

For many families, the pandemic made learning even tougher.

“There’s definitely been struggle,” said Jenna McDonald. “We were lucky my mom helped out a lot. She’s a retired teacher, so we got really lucky there. But there are still some setbacks for us too.”

With those challenges in mind, families hoped the Little Free Libraries could make a big difference to improve literacy skills.

“I think any opportunity for kids to be able to read helps with that. So to have these easily accessible, I think it really helps,” said Jenna McDonald. β€œIt helps them be creative. It helps them have more word bank and just helps them all around so they have a lot more opportunity and growth in school.”

Roberts said community members could also donate quality books, not throwaways, to the Little Free Libraries as well. Stewards assigned to the libraries were tasked with checking them weekly and maintaining them.
One of 32 planned Little Free Libraries, built by D. Darnell of the Dapper Hammer, and painted by local artists, stands in Kalamazoo. (WWMT/Gabe Balderramas)

Although the majority of the 32 Little Free Libraries were slated to be installed in the summer and fall of 2021, the first two were installed in August and October of 2020.

For the latest updates on Little Free Libraries, visit the project’s Facebook page.