Dec. 8, 2017 -- Gearity’s first graders love to read. Books about race cars, books about Star Wars. Moon Dog books, Bubble Trouble books, silly books, challenging books. They also love to share. And what better way to combine those two classic elementary skills than with a Little Free Library?
Little Free Library is a national non-profit that “inspires a love of reading, builds community, and sparks creativity by fostering neighborhood book exchanges around the world.” There are more than 60,000 structures serving as mini libraries where passersby are invited to “Take a book, leave a book.”
First grade teacher Karen Golenberg presented the idea to STEM Coordinator Jackie Taylor after seeing children in her Cleveland Heights neighborhood clustered around a newly installed LFL on Lamberton. “I just thought, how cool would it be if we could have one of our own right here at Gearity?”
Golenberg, Taylor and fellow first grade teacher Shari Macklin joined forces to make this idea a reality. Taylor began researching potential containers that would be functional, sturdy enough to keep books safe regardless of weather . . . and free. “I’m always calling and asking companies for donations,” said Taylor. “But no one responded to me as quickly or with as much enthusiasm as the Plain Dealer.” The media company offered one of their newspaper vending machines, with a drop-down door covering its waterproof storage box.
The container was a source of curiosity for the six- and seven-year olds. Kai thought that “maybe it’s a machine to make stuff.” A classmate decided it was a “newspaper machine.” Lacey clarified by saying it was “a paper maker.”
After telling her students that it used to contain newspapers for sale (“and these still exist!”), Ms. Golenberg asked what else they might put in it. “What’s something we’d all love to have, that we could just open this door and borrow whenever we wanted, something we use in our room every afternoon?”
Her students wiggled and gasped and waved their hands in the air before Nicholas had the opportunity to answer: “Books!”
Many questions followed, such as whether they would have to pay for their book (they don’t), whether they had to return the books (not necessarily but they could), if they had to give a book to get a book (ideally but not required), and where all the books would come from (more on that later). One child asked if he would be allowed to get a new book each year and was happy to hear his teacher reply, “You can get a new book each day if you want.”
But first, the young students decided to decorate the library to make it more inviting. Ms. Golenberg used Google Translate to identify the word “Read” in fifty different languages, one for each Gearity first grader. They then met with Ms. Taylor in the school’s MakerSpace where they typed their word into a computer, choose its color, size and font, and printed it out using a high-tech vinyl cutter. The sturdy metal box was soon covered with a rainbow of new words: everything from the Dutch Lezen to the Swahili Soma to words that use dramatically different letters from those the students are used to, such as Khmer and Lao. There were familiar words like Leer, from the Spanish that several of Ms. Golenberg’s students speak at home, to Guo in Igbo, a language that all present agreed they never knew existed.
The completed library will sit on the school playground where it will be available to students and community members alike. The only thing it’s missing now is a robust collection of books. If any readers have books they would like to donate – both fiction and non-fiction, picture books and chapter books, of any length or on any topic appropriate to children ages five through 12, please reach out to Ms. Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or Ms. Golenberg at email@example.com or deliver boxes to Gearity’s main office.
Once full, the Little Free Library will provide students with hours of reading enjoyment. “We read a lot of things on our iPads these days,” said Ms. Golenberg of her classroom. “But there’s nothing like the joy of having a book in your hands.”