ELYRIA — Amid the rousing festivities at the Boys & Girls Club of Lorain County on Saturday, a handful of affiliated parents and grandparents were yielding power tools and huddled around an unassembled, oversized birdhouse.
Under the guidance of the after-school youth club’s director of operations Bobby Taylor, the guardians hammered away at the white weatherproofed structure to create the city’s first “little free libraries.”
“It’s a beautification project with an emphasis of literacy,” said Taylor, who said the project, which originated in Wisconsin in 2009 and is rapidly gaining national popularity, harmoniously matches the Boys & Girls Club’s mission to boost local children’s literacy skills.
The libraries’ rules are simple — passersby take a book from the house’s enclosed interior and are suggested to eventually leave, or return, a book in exchange. With one on the Boys & Girls Club’s property and the other in the community garden on South Maple Street, the libraries’ free-of-charge literature is up for grabs all hours of the day and has no due date.
“It’s a more fun and creative way to get a book,” said Carla Johnson, who helped build the birdhouse-shaped library and has four grandchildren enrolled at the club.
Considering the club’s reliable and consistent stream of donated books, Taylor harbors no concern about the literature running out. In fact, the Boys and Girls Club received a Stocker Foundation gift of 200 books on Friday and plans to donate several to the book exchange.
The free little libraries also solve a chronic problem in county families. Many parents accrue unpaid fines at the public library, which prevent their children from taking out books and practicing how to read. This project has no restrictions and therefore does not hinder families from borrowing books and furthering their children’s education at home.
“The more reading a child does, the more opportunity they have,” said Lori Angel of Save Our Children, which stresses individualizing education to foster young students’ success. “A free library is one of the most wonderful things.”
Save Our Children plans to organize future readings in partnership with the little libraries project.
This literacy program falls under the umbrella of South Elyria’s growing YES Zone, a local collaboration working to best promote lasting educational achievement among children in the area. Inspired by Jeffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone, those at the Boys & Girls Club have been developing a county YES Zone, which is not yet official, since 2009.
“The project is a labor of love,” said Taylor, an Elyria native and resident. “We are fortunate enough to be able to bring resources and transform the community.”