Little Free Library Projects Brings Books Where They’re Most Needed

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Chatham Elementary School

Chatham Elementary School students Shorey Rose (left) and Izaiah Freeman helped paint the libraries, which were built by volunteer woodworkers from the Chatham-Harwich Newcomers Club. COURTESY PHOTO

CHATHAM — Educators know that a key way to boost school performance in older children is to encourage reading, almost any kind of reading, when they’re young. So in Chatham, they’ve found a new way to bring the books to the kids.

As part of the Monomoy School District’s effort to encourage early childhood literacy, school officials and volunteers have installed a Little Free Library at Lake Street Terrace, a Chatham neighborhood that has families with young children.

Essentially outdoor book storage shelves, Little Free Libraries encourage people to borrow books for free, and to leave books of their own. While a number of local neighborhoods have them, this is the first time locally that a Little Free Library has been established with kids specifically in mind.

The idea came from Chatham Elementary School Principal Robin Millen and other school officials who were looking for ways to help all students perform better in school.

“One of the things we wanted to do is make sure we have books in the hands of all of our kids,” Millen said. Little Free Libraries are well used in other parts of town, and school officials looked at building a couple that were low to the ground, colorful and located in places frequented by children.

“We were just looking to augment the amazing children’s library we have downtown,” she said. For various reasons, including traffic and parking, some locals avoid going downtown on a regular basis, Millen added.

Construction of the library, and an identical one to be placed in a location yet to be decided, was a true community effort. Volunteers from the Chatham-Harwich Newcomers Club Woodworkers’ Group designed and built the libraries using supplies donated by Shepley Wood Products, Baskins Ace Hardware and West Marine. The boxes were painted by Chatham Elementary School students, with help from school custodians.

It wasn’t hard to drum up support for the idea, Monomoy Community Engagement Coordinator Joy Jordan said.

“Everybody said yes,” she said. “Everybody’s been so passionate about it.” The project came to fruition without the need for any school budget funds. Even the books are being donated.

“We’re trying to stock it with everything from picture books to middle grade topic books,” she said. Organizers are hoping to purchase bilingual children’s books, which allow students and parents to read together even when parents or kids speak English as a second language.

“Thirty percent of our kindergarten is English learners this year,” Millen said. The district is working with children whose families speak a variety of languages at home, from Spanish and Bulgarian to Vietnamese and Korean. “We’re looking for a diversity of texts” of all types, Millen said.

Quinn Retmier, who manages Lake Street Terrace, said she’s sure the library will be a success.

“There are so many kiddos here,” she said. “I think it’s fantastic. A lot of my tenants don’t have great public transportation access” and can’t easily visit a traditional library, she said. Rather than being mounted to a post, like most Little Free Libraries, the one at Lake Street Terrace will be positioned near the management office’s front door, low enough for little hands to reach.

Monomoy Superintendent of Schools Scott Carpenter said the district is glad to support projects like this one, “things that really support success for children down the road.” The little library supports the district’s strategic goal of encouraging early childhood literacy, he said.

Jordan said organizers have asked Chatham Parks and Recreation Director Dan Tobin to brainstorm a potential location for the second library, but if none come to mind, it may be installed elsewhere at Lake Street Terrace, perhaps near the neighborhood’s playground.