By Kristin Emery
Are you looking for something good to read? That book might be even closer than you think–maybe even just around the corner. A new crop of “Little Free Libraries” is popping up across Southwestern Pennsylvania and just got a fresh infusion thanks to the EQT Foundation and Blueprints.
What are Little Free Libraries?
Little Free Libraries are small structures that dot the community where anyone can borrow and donate books from many genres.
According to Little Free Library, a nonprofit organization based in Wisconsin, more than 30 million American adults cannot read or write above a third-grade level. Studies have repeatedly shown that books in the hands of children have a meaningful impact on improving literacy.
Little Free Library book-sharing boxes play an essential role by providing 24/7 access to books and encouraging a love of reading.
Locally, Blueprints (formerly Community Action Southwest), a regional nonprofit that focuses on improving the mind, home, health and wallets of local residents, has been a big proponent of the little community gems and has overseen the building and maintenance of more than 20 Little Free Libraries in Washington and Greene Counties and the Mon Valley. The program is a fundraiser within Blueprints that helps promote literacy for children and adults within the Washington and Greene County communities. Businesses and organizations can sponsor “libraries” placed in the local communities, then Blueprints maintains them and replenishes the books each month.
“Blueprints started getting involved with the (Little Free Libraries) movement because we felt like there was a strong need to get books in the hands of the members of our community both for children and adults,” says Anastasia Barr-Whiteman, Blueprints Communications Manager. “We wanted to make sure we were serving the areas where getting books may not be an easy thing to obtain.” Barr-Whiteman believes the benefit to the community is an opportunity to serve others and make a difference. “The take a book/leave a book mentality is allowing community members to serve each other by leaving their old books for someone else to enjoy,” she adds. “This may seem like a very small impact, but it is actually a large impact because these books are helping make lifelong readers and promoters of literacy for years to come.”
The COVID-19 pandemic last year put a damper on volunteers building new Little Free Libraries, but the EQT Foundation is now sponsoring and has built three boxes for new locations and held an Earth Day book drive. “When the opportunity was presented, I jumped on the chance to build one of the Little Free Libraries for Blueprints,” says Canonsburg resident Michael Fisher, Lead Business Process Analyst at EQT Corporation. “I often look for ways to give back to my local community, and with EQT’s support of employee volunteerism, the project presented as a perfect fit.” The three new Little Free Libraries were placed by Mingo Creek Park and outside the Blueprints Waynesburg office on High Street. The third will be placed in the borough of Jefferson by the end of summer.
Volunteer builders create all of Blueprints’ Little Free Libraries. The latest three started with students from Western Area Career & Technology Center. “When the pandemic hit, the students couldn’t continue the project,” explains Barr-Whiteman. “Thankfully, EQT stepped up and found volunteers within their company to volunteer their time to build libraries for us. We are so thankful that what started out as a sponsorship turned into a partnership with EQT to help serve our community in a big way.”
To stock the Little Free Libraries, sponsors are encouraged to hold book drives, but anyone in the community can donate. “When a new library is placed, we take donated books with stickers from our sponsors inside and place those books into the libraries for a start,” Barr-Whiteman adds. “Then we go on a monthly basis and check on the library and restock books.”
Blueprints employees have embraced the Little Free Libraries as a pet project and often check on the locations close to their homes. “One of our staff said their son asks when they go to Mingo if he can check on the library to make sure everything looks okay and to add books,” Barr-Whiteman says. “It’s incredible to see that our libraries are cared about by our staff and children.” You’ll find another Little Free Libraries at the Carmichaels Senior Center and can get a complete list of locations at myblueprints.org.