Update on Laundromat Libraries: Increasing Our Footprint on Literacy in our Communities
by Karen Long
As a consultant with the Ohio Writing Project at Miami University, I’d attended an Everyday Advocacy workshop a few summers prior at Eastern Michigan with Cathy Fleischer. The tools and information that I learned that summer would serve me well in the creation of what I called the Clinton County Laundromat Libraries (CCLL).
I shared this work in a previous post in this space. You might recall that initially, my husband and I were the only volunteers. He chauffeured me around the rural county where we live, helping me set up bookshelves at four different laundromat locations. I worked with schools, teachers, families and businesses in the county to get donated children’s books on the shelves. I visited each of the four locations about once a month to tidy them up and restock the shelves with books stored in my garage.
I knew that in order to sustain this work, I needed to return to the principles that I’d learned in the Everyday Advocacy workshops. I needed to engage others, beyond just my husband. I needed to be savvy as I strategically engaged my community in this project, encouraging others to join in the fun and take action with me. And WOW! The allies who have come alongside this work have really become the leaders and organizers of this project in a BIG way! These new and capable allies are doing the hands-on work of leading and growing this project.
GROWING COMMITTED ALLIES
Social media, primarily our Facebook Page, became a big part of gaining strong allies in this project. Initially friends and colleagues responded to specific requests for help, like the donation of books and bookshelves. As word began to spread, people whom I’d never met began to inquire and respond to other requests, like the request for laundromat library leaders, someone to champion different laundromat library locations. Social media allowed us a platform to provide relevant and frequent content about the project such as photos from the laundromats featuring refreshed and updated bookshelves with new books, tips on what families can do to support literacy development at home, and how to sign up to receive free books every month at home through Ohio’s Imagination Library.
Another big part of gaining committed allies was writing news articles about the laundromat library project in our local county paper, the Wilmington News Journal. I wrote different articles explaining the mission of our work, sharing details about upcoming events, and celebrating donation checks and supplies that we’d received. Both social media and these news stories helped to keep the project in the minds of community members. Keeping the project featured in these different formats has brought positive energy to the project, including county commissioners thinking of our project when it was time for a local early childhood program to close its doors and their inventory to be dispersed. The laundromat library project benefited from boxes and boxes of donated children’s books and gently used bookshelves that would upgrade those currently used in the laundromat libraries. The news also helped us expand our drop off locations to include different locations around the county for people to donate new and gently used books. And we grew our army of volunteers, adding new members to the leadership team who would bring new ideas and fresh energy to the project.
If you were to visit a Clinton County Laundromat Library today, you would notice the shelves full of children’s books, mostly used but some new. You would likely see children flipping through the shelves or the pages of one of the books. You might find an adult reading aloud to a child. Or you might find an adult looking through the books on the shelves picking out a book for a young person in their life. That’s exactly what the books are there for!
GAINING MOMENTUM AND GROWING
Since I have been away for the past year and supporting CCLL children’s book projects remotely, the project has not merely sustained momentum, it has multiplied its momentum, increasing its footprint on literacy in the community. The volunteer advocates continue to work to put books into the hands and homes of the youngest readers in Clinton County in new and creative ways. In addition, the volunteer group continues to grow!
The newest location for one of our libraries is the Clinton County Homeless shelter. A teacher with a student living in the homeless shelter saw a need for more books for her student and reached out to us for help. This teacher has now taken responsibility for ensuring that the shelves at the homeless shelter are stocked with books for the students living there.
In addition, new volunteers have joined the ranks of book givers. The newest member joined the team with an idea of how to fundraise and get NEW books on the shelves and in the hands and homes of children in Clinton County. Sara Williams joined the team and got right to work fundraising for the group. As a book representative with Usborne and Kane Miller publishing, she led the group in conducting a generous book drive program, with a 50% match in free books from donations.
FUNDRAISING AND ENGAGING COMMUNITY
The fundraiser started with the help of Elizaeth Huber, who has become our official coordinator of book distribution for the group. Elizabeth works at the local newspaper, and when she approached the editor of the paper about how they could help, the editor offered storage space for donated books in their centrally located office. Books are dropped off by local libraries and community members, while Elizabeth sorts through them and assembles boxes of books for each laundromat library volunteer to pick up and place on the shelves in the laundromat.
Early one Saturday morning in April, Elizabeth took a supply of books to an Earth Day event in the center of Wilmington and shared them with children who stopped by all day. Elizabeth had organized volunteers to read a story aloud every half hour to the children gathered. Sara was there to share the fundraiser information with community members who stopped by. With the launch of the fundraiser at this Earth Day event, we had one week to reach our goal of raising $1,000 for brand new Usborne books for the laundromat bookshelves.
During the following week, the fundraiser continued via our FaceBook page. In a week, we raised more than $1,000 dollars for new books for the laundromat libraries, and we organized a strong social media campaign that spread the word about our project! With the Usborne and Kane Miller 50% matching funds campaign, that meant $1,500 in new books for our shelves! That calculates to more than 400 books which means more than 100 brand new books for each of the four laundromat libraries around the county! That calculates to more reading which means so much to the children and families who visit these book spaces!
Sara is also an audiologist at the local hospital. When she shared the fundraising idea with hospital administrators and staff, they were so excited that they have begun making plans for future fundraisers. This partnership will help us keep a steady flow of interesting books on our laundromat shelves.
As we reflect back on the hopes and dreams that we had at the start of the year for the laundromat libraries, we can see some of these hopes realized. We are developing strong partnerships with local businesses to increase the sustainability of this project, our strongest support coming from the local newspaper. We had our first fundraising event and now our first book drive is being organized by the local hospital. We continue to partner with community agencies that invite us to host booths at family friendly events. Our social media continues to spark new interest and new ideas. Someone from a neighboring community who found us on social media reached out to me asking for guidance as she hopes to start this project in her community.
Our continued hopes and dreams and focus moving forward will be to focus strategically on these action steps:
Enrolling children ages 0-5 years in the Ohio’s Imagination Library so that they can receive free books monthly, modeled after Dolly Parton's Imagination Library project.
Partner with pediatricians, Headstart, and other family-based agencies to discover ways to put books into the hands and homes of our youngest children.
Continue to share Everyday Advocacy strategies and this laundromat library project as an example about how thinking and planning smart, safe and savvy can create sustainable momentum around a project that can create positive change in a community.
Find ways to partner with other literacy initiatives such as back to school nights, Parent Teacher Conferences, Storybook Trail at Cowan Lake, and library events.
Even though my formal work with schools and literacy stopped when I left my role as principal, my footprint on literacy in our community continues to make an impact. My passion for literacy continues to burn strong. The tools that I’ve learned regarding Everyday Advocacy allows me to express that passion in ways that continue to evolve.
Karen Long is a lifelong reader and traveler who published her work with Everyday Advocacy previously. She currently does advocacy work in both the community where she lives and where she travels. She can be reached at email@example.com, on Twitter @MrsKarenLong, and on Facebook at Karen Urban Long or Clinton County Laundromat Libraries.