Employees at the Ligonier Public Library got creative when brainstorming how to promote reading during the summer.
Ligonier is a small city located between Elkhart and Fort Wayne. It’s population is just under 5,000. Even though Ligonier is settled in Noble County, which is 87 percent white, Ligonier’s community is 52 percent Hispanic or Latino.
The small city has a common problem: they want to make books more accessible and get more residents, especially children, into the library.
Angela Scott is the program coordinator at the Ligonier Public Library. She was trying to decide what to do with the leftover books from their fall book sale when she got an idea. She remembered a time when she and her husband would frequent laundromats.
“And kids would be running crazy sometimes because there would have nothing for them to do. So I remembered how much he was frustrated with kids being able to do whatever they wanted," said Scott. "This was a good opportunity for them to not only be able to have something to keep them busy, to have something with literacy and we are also able to spread the word about the library programs.”
So the book boxes were created. Scott took those leftover books and put them in portable boxes. The next step was to talk to the laundromat owners.
“One of the laundromats was like 'yeah, this is fantastic. We don’t know if you will keep the books there or not, but we are willing to do it.' The other one was like,okay we can see how it goes,” said Scott.
Now the book boxes live in three locations: two laundromats and one at the local food pantry. There are about 20 children’s books in each book box and Scott adds a few young adult books for the older readers.
Scott also thought about the community as a whole. Ligonier is 52 percent Hispanic and Scott says she wants the book boxes to be as inclusive as possible.
“We even tried to have some that were in Spanish as well, that were put in there. So it was bilingual so you have different groups you could be targeting and stuff,” said Scott.
Scott thinks the book boxes are a good idea because she knows how difficult it is for parents to find time.
“With our area here it is kinda harder for some families to get into the library, but clean clothing is a necessity. So it might be hard for some parents to be like, well I only have so much free time in my day, I can’t necessarily run into the library every week, but I have to do the laundry,” said Scott.
With summer in full swing Scott says it’s important for children to be reading throughout the summer so they keep high levels of comprehension and vocabulary.
“There is a thing called the summer slump. And what happens is that children are not reading. It seems weird that you would lose your reading skills throughout the summer but it’s something that teachers are running into," said Scott. "They don’t have access to these kids. The kids are not practicing. It’s just like a musical instrument: if you're not practicing, you’re not using it. You are going to be at a lower reading than what you left with.”
Another thing both parents and librarians are up against is technology. Scott says technology is great, but it can make life too easy.
“People’s imagination is amazing. That’s the thing about books. Everyone can read a book and you can image it in a different way. You watch a movie and everyone is pretty much seeing the same movie. And that is why it’s important to have a conversation between parents and children. And the libraries want to help with that,” said Scott.
David Hilbish frequents the local laundromat. He has seven children and says their family laundry room doesn’t cut it.
“Here we come, and get it all done in less than two hours and we are good for most of the week,” said Hilbish.
His younger children are homeschooled and on this day, four of his daughters are helping with the laundry. Their ages range from 7 to 12. They have developed a functional system while they wait for their clothes.
“They read and do some of their school work during the washer cycle and then when it switches over to the drier cycle they can do interactive games like they are doing now,” said Hilbish.
Hilbish likes that books are available at the laundromat. He says he believes in the library and appreciates how they are making books accessible.
“It’s a great idea. I talked to one of the owners earlier on, he was excited about that. Everytime he comes in and does the maintenance or whatever he’s always talking to the kids and encouraging the families to look at the boxes or whatever you need to do to get your kid reading or read with your kids,” said Hilbish.
Scott says some families visit frequently which means the children are looking at the same books. So every other month Scott and other employees go back to check the boxes, switching books out and replace missing books.
Some people were concerned that the books would go missing but Scott says it’s not a loss because the books were going to be discarded regardless.
“If they do get kept, it’s sad because it keeps someone else from enjoying them at that location. But at least it’s getting into a home somewhere and into the child’s hands,” said Scott.
Another asset to the book boxes is that they help spread the word about the library. The back of each book has information on how to get a library card and the boxes themselves show library events and program announcements.
Scott says they will continue the book boxes and they could even expand the program to other locations.