Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Cassandra Elton.
I was in kindergarten when I got my first library card. The two requirements for a child’s library card at our public library in Summit, New Jersey were you had to have a parent cosign the card with you and you had to be able to write your own name. I remember standing on tip-toe with the blue ball point pen clenched in my hand writing my name just like I’d practiced so many times at school and at home.
And then it was mine! My very own library card. Sure, my mom held on to it for me since I was only 6, but still! The possibilities were endless. Now I could check out my very own books from the library. My mom would give me one of our library totes (various canvas bags we used just for library visits) and I could go around the children’s section selecting the books that I wanted to read or have read to me. I was in control.
This feeling of excitement and ownership is something I think every child should have the opportunity to experience. Libraries are amazing institutions where kids are safe and free to explore and learn how they choose.
Classrooms in schools are important, but libraries are where kids are free to direct their own learning. You love outerspace? Check out these books on the solar system, with facts about and pictures of the planets. Interested in dragons? Look at all these fantasy books where humans train dragons or fight them fearlessly. Fairy tales? There are a million and one different reinventions of the classic fairy tale and they are all here at your fingertips.
I, like many of you, am a current library and information science graduate student. I moved from the East Coast to Iowa City for grad school at the University of Iowa where I now live with my husband, our puppy, and five part-time jobs between the two of us.
But I also have a library. Or rather, I am working to have a library. It’s called the Antelope Lending Library. Maybe you’ve heard of it? It was mentioned on a previous HackLibSchool post a few weeks back. (So exciting!)
The Antelope Lending Library will serve the Southeast side of Iowa City, an area known for its lower-income and immigrant populations. The residents on this side of town don’t make it to the downtown public library for story time at 11 am on Thursdays or 10 am Tech Help on Wednesdays. These working-class families still need library services, but need them closer to home, at times that allow for their work schedules.
That’s what the Antelope Lending Library is all about.
Located in the Sycamore Mall, the library will be within walking distance of 4 elementary schools, 1 junior high, 2 high schools, and one community college. That means that kids can walk to our library after school instead of having to rely on parents who are tired after a long day of work to take them downtown to check out books.
Libraries are important. I’m not saying anything new here: we all know its true. But just because there is a library in a city doesn’t mean that it’s serving everyone who lives in that city.
One of my jobs is working at an after-school program at a local elementary school. The kids I work with on a daily basis do not make it downtown regularly. Many of them have lived in Iowa City for years, but have been to the public library only a handful of times. It shouldn’t be this way. I want to help even the playing field for these kids by offering library services to them and their families in their own community.
Our library will offer evening story times, so working parents can bring their kids. We will offer English as a Second Language classes for immigrant families to improve their language skills so parents don’t have to rely on their elementary school-age children to translate for them. We will have writing workshops and science events to help get kids excited about learning and develop skills that they are interested in. We already have community partners who are excited about the possibility of using our library space for their own community outreach and we are excited to let them.
But we can’t do this without you.
We are currently fundraising on IndieGoGo for our first year of rent—$20,000. By donating even just $10 you are helping children improve their reading skills, adults improve their language skills, and providing a space for an entire community to come together and learn.
Fundraising is hard. And it takes a long time. They say that it takes seven points of contact for most people to finally donate to a cause. That’s a lot of emailing, tweeting, Facebooking and just plain talking to get the word out there. But I think it’s worth it, don’t you? Please take the time to donate and spread the word about our project.
Help us put a library card in the hands of a child today.
Cassandra Elton is a current Library and Information Science student at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. She has a BA in English and has studied abroad in Spain and Ecuador. She is interested in community outreach and providing information services to all populations. Find her on Twitter (@CassandraElton) and follow her current community project at antelopelendinglibrary.org.
Categories: Advocacy & Activism, This Is Awesome
I’m going to be a bit of a cynic here because I can’t find this question answered anywhere, and I apologize if I simply missed it.
What, if any, attempts were made to work with the public library on this endeavor? I’m not saying there isn’t a clear need that you can meet with the Antelope Lending Library; I’m just curious how you reached the conclusion that it needed to be independent from any other public or nonprofit groups. The answer is not always revolution.
Cassi-as always, top work my friend. You brought back great memories.
We had a book mobile that parked directly across the street from my house! I’d be in it reading the titles, head tilted 90 degrees, until the driver said, “Honey we have to close now, our battery’s gonna run out.” My next card was when I was a teenager and it took 3 nuns and an act of Congress to get (these were the very bureaucratic 80’s and my town was covered in triplicate). Then it was fingerprints and a retinal scan a few years back, and now here hangs the most recent one in all its broken in half, bar-coded, key-chain plastic glory. If they need a pint of blood for my next one, I’ll gladly give it in return for the precious gift
they’ve given me.
Libraries might just possibly the most important thing to our society’s survival. We need these places; they are socially safer harbors than any church, promote more free knowledge than our schools, and should be far more common on street corners than liquor stores and gas stations.
To any followers out there,
Please, if you can read this blog, thank a library and send a few bucks their way. You can do it anonymously, or heck, be bold and accept one of their thank you rewards. (I’m totally getting my name on that mural!)
If you’d rather not send funds, no problem, volunteer some time or clean out the attic and send them a few old books you’ve already read (please check with them first to see what they need-one CAN actually have too many romance novels. Just ask my grandmother’s house).
Whatever you can do, don’t be afraid to show some love. I promise it will love you back.
Catherine, I appreciate your questions! You’re right, I didn’t address the aspects of working with the public library, so let me answer that question now.
I approached the public library back in April to find out more about their outreach efforts on the Southeast side and to see if they currently or previously had plans to open a branch there. The woman I met with told me that they did not have plans to open a branch and believed that they were adequately serving the entire community with their downtown location. They made an effort to expand last year with a small computer lab on the Southeast side to better serve residents there, but due to limited funding and few hours, it was not, by her own admission, very successful.
I asked her if she thought a library project like mine would fine traction and support, and she said if I thought I could get funding for it I was welcome to try.
So here I am. I completely understand the public library’s reticence to open a branch anywhere in the city, but especially on a side of town that is as transient as the Southeast side. Funding is tight for all libraries right now and I respect their decision to focus their efforts on their current location rather than risk spreading themselves too thin by branching out.
However, that being said, I think that library services are very important and needed on the Southeast side. I would love to see a partnership develop between the Antelope Lending Library and the public library, but until then I think it is important enough to start our own community endeavor instead of waiting around.
Also, we are not on our own. I should have mentioned this in the post: we are a part of the James Gang (thejamesgang.ws), a local co-op of non-profits in Iowa City. As a member of this organization and with the support of many other existing organizations, I feel that our library has a great chance of success.
Thank you for your questions and don’t hesitate to contact me via Twitter (@CassandraElton) with any other concerns.
Much clearer now — thanks for the additional info!
Leah, thanks so much for your support! Can’t wait to paint your name on our donor mural!
paint it big to match my ego haha