C O N V E R T E D N E W S P A P E R S T A N D S
H E L P L I T E R A C Y M A K E A D I F F E R E N C E
Many have a moment in their childhood where they fell in love with reading, where a book enchanted them and pulled them in completely. For many, it’s one specific book or even a string of words that changed the way they viewed reading.
Students in the Honors College partnered with the Literacy Council of West Alabama in spring of 2018 and began working to create this feeling in children across Tuscaloosa in the following fall semester. They hope to cultivate this love for reading in elementary school children with their innovative, reimagined version of a newspaper stand-turned-library. A group of volunteer students took four old newspaper stands from around Tuscaloosa and, with a little bit of labor and a lot of inspiration, turned them into miniature, portable libraries.
The idea behind the stands was to grab the attention of younger children in an effort to develop a love for reading and increase literacy rates at a younger age. The boxes are painted a bright, playful blue and filled with books that the kids can grab on the go and read at home, or wherever they choose to. Ben Rogers, a leader in the project, said that the hope is that young kids will leave school, notice the boxes, and be filled with enough curiosity to look inside and take a book. The idea creates more opportunities for a connection to be formed between children and reading. Rogers pointed out that these libraries eliminate things a kid might normally need to get access to new books, like a library card or even a ride to the library in the first place. Instead, they can grab a new book on their way out of school or even at the park. In short, these miniature libraries offer kids “less reasons not to read, and more reasons to read,” Rogers said.
Reading can grow a student and a person in many ways. That’s part of why the Literacy Council of West Alabama came to the Honors College in search of people to work with: they knew that there were individuals in the Honors College who could help make this project a reality. Growing literacy in children does so much more than simply increase literacy, it educates and improves their learning skills in many ways.
“It’s not just a love of reading, but a love of learning,” Rogers said.
Hannah Deese, an Honors College student who volunteered on the project, had a similar viewpoint on the goals of the miniature libraries but with a unique perspective. Deese’s mom was an elementary school teacher growing up, and without her, Deese shared that her love for reading would be very different—or possibly not there at all.
“In the summers, she would make us do summer reading projects, and at the time I hated them. But it fostered a love for reading within me,” Deese said. For Deese, reading more as a child changed her whole perspective on books, and these libraries have the potential to do just that for many children in the Tuscaloosa area.
Having access to books, however, is not always a given, especially to many children in Tuscaloosa and surrounding areas. Organizations like Al’s Pals work with children from around Tuscaloosa, and Deese is a volunteer there as well. Al’s Pals showed Deese in some ways that kids in this area can have less access to books and unlimited reading than many might realize.
“Sometimes, you can see kids that are underserved. They don’t have the literacy that they should at the age that they are,” Deese said.
Having a proficient literacy level and a childhood full of books can be more influential than people recognize, affecting many aspects of life. In fact, an article from the Children’s Literacy Foundation, states that “one in six children who are not reading proficiently at a third grade level do not graduate from high school on time.” But the effects of reading can extend even beyond graduation. The article goes on to note that, “among those who reach adulthood with the lowest level of literacy proficiency, 43 percent live in poverty.” In a striking contrast, only 4 percent of those with strong literacy skills live in poverty. Many don’t realize how startling these statistics are because they have been surrounded by books from childhood on. Deese shared that her situation was similar.
“I did a privilege walk,” Deese said. “You all line up, and someone reads out statements, and if they pertain to you, you step forwards or backwards. One of the statements was, ‘Step forward if you grew up with more than 100 books in your home.’ I never thought of that as a privilege before.”
Books are scattered everywhere in many people’s houses growing up, but many children don’t have that experience, and that can affect their life as their learning skills grow and develop. Fortunately, volunteers and organizations like The Literacy Council of West Alabama are pushing miniature libraries like these out into the world. The hope behind the converted newspaper stands is that it will grab children’s attention, pull them in, and leave them with a love for reading that keeps them coming back.