There’s a new trend spreading across San Joaquin that’s got book enthusiasts buzzing! The Little Free Library—a program started in Wisconsin in 2009—has taken our nation and other parts of the world by storm. Bringing books to every neighborhood it possibly can, Little Free Library appears in the form of miniaturized houses, barns, and even refurbished newspaper vending machines—full of books free for the taking.
Chairman Moses Zapien of the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors, one of the leading individuals to bring the program to Stockton, spoke with us about both its purpose and humble beginnings in our port city.
“We started the program in Stockton in May of 2014, in response to a University of the Pacific report on literacy in San Joaquin County,” he recalls. “The report showed that 66 percent of third graders in the county do not read at grade level.” A shocking number, further backed by evidence that many of those students do not move on to graduate high school. Hoping to improve those numbers, the Chairman, along with a few select individuals, began taking steps to promote the libraries in Stockton after a few had begun sprouting up on their own.
“A core group of us approached The Record newspaper and asked if they would be willing to donate some old newspaper vending machines to use as the first set of libraries,” he states. Twenty-two in total were donated. “With the community’s help, we were able to clean, paint, and ultimately transform them into little libraries and place them in disadvantaged communities.”
And why these communities? Chair explains that, “We wanted to put these libraries in areas where access to city libraries was limited. We focused first on the east and south sides of Stockton. The idea behind these libraries is to bring the library to the people—bring books into the neighborhoods. There are no library cards involved. It’s based on the honor system—you leave a book, you take a book.”
These libraries are maintained by community members or organizations known as Stewards, who add more books to the boxes when they run out and ensure that the mini-library and its contents are appropriate for San Joaquin’s youth. With over 70 libraries already attached to the program and 25 more commissioned to be built by Lincoln High School, the project is a thriving success in its outreach.
But it’s all in thanks to the community that’s backing it, the Chairman points out. “One of my favorite quotes is by Margaret Fuller: ‘today a reader, tomorrow a leader.’ That’s really indicative of what we wanted to do in promoting literacy among our youth. We are just one effort in a variety of efforts going on in San Joaquin County to promote literacy and early childhood education. It takes a whole community to make the type of difference we ultimately want to see.”
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Little Free Library