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Free Little Libraries, #413reads Bring Books into the Community

Posted by: Jennifer Metsch

Many families in the 413 area code don’t have easy access to books to read to their children. Jackie Neiman and I, two parents of graduating seniors at the Sinai Temple, saw an opportunity to come up with a way to get more books into the homes of Springfield families, knowing that reading, speaking and even singing aloud from birth are the most important things a parent can do for their child to put them on a path for life-long learning.

Then we learned about Free Little Libraries. The idea is simple: Small, weatherproof boxes placed at strategic locations within the community containing donated, gently used books that are free for the borrowing. “Take a book, leave a book” is the simple message noted on the front of each box.

We saw immediately that collaborating with the #413reads social media campaign, led by the Reading Success by 4th Grade initiative, could be the start of a great collaboration with real impact on reading readiness in our area.

Traditionally the Free Little Libraries are newly-constructed structures; however Springfield's Free Little Libraries might look familiar to passersby. They began as newspaper circulation dispensers no longer in use by the Springfield Republican. Purchased for a nominal fee of $5, they were cleaned up, painted bright blue and decorated with #413reads.

Agencies and organizations in the community expressed a tremendous amount of excitement about the idea, and in early June four Free Little Libraries were delivered to their new homes in Springfield.

Students of the Elias Brookings Museum Magnet Elementary School designed the artwork for each of the four Little Libraries. Many thanks to these creative students and to their Principal, Terry Powe and Adjustment Counselor, Gianna Allentuck for agreeing to help bring this project to life and for hosting a Free Little Library.

We also thank these host sites for their commitment to improve literacy in our community:

Children's Study Home – Celebrating its 150th anniversary of service to children and their families this year, Executive Director Eliza Cresecentini worked with us to host a library at its Mason Square Campus. The Free Little Library was unveiled to the Mason Square community on June 17 as part of the celebration of the new, "Welcome to Mason Square" sign that the agency donated to the community.

The Gray House – Executive Director, Dena Calvenese received the idea of hosting a Free Little Library so well and will unveil it when they dedicate their renovated front porch this summer. The renovated porch event will focus on literacy and summer reading, and the Free Little Library will be part of the celebration.

Prospect House –The family shelter has a Free Little Library on their front porch, and Program Manager Aaron Roberson is thrilled to have a fun and engaging way to encourage books in the community. There were residents searching the Free Little Library before we left the porch from delivering it!

On each Free Little Library, there is a plaque gifted by the graduating seniors of Sinai Temple in honor of Rabbi Mark Shapiro. The plaques read, "Presented to the Community In honor of Rabbi Mark Dov & Marsha Shapiro for their commitment to Tikkun Olam (Repairing or healing, the world) A gift from the Sinai Temple Religious School Senior Class of 2015."

We invite others to consider sponsoring or hosting a Free Little Library. The sites are happy to receive new or gently loved books to replenish the boxes. Books can also be brought to Sinai Temple during business hours for distribution to the sites.