Small Free Libraries Encourage Summer Reading in Augusta

Books inside a small free library on Fridays at McCall’s Park playground in Augusta. Joe Phelan / Journal Kennebec Buy this photo

AUGUSTA – Rebecca Gay fills the Little Free Library in McCall’s Park at least twice a week.

Certainly, she brings children running, impatient to see what she has deposited.

“I was with my daughter once and we dropped off her old cat books,” Gay said. “As we were putting them in, this little girl stood there, grabbed him and ran to her mother. My daughter said, ‘Did you see that? That’s how happy the book made me, ”and I said,“ Yeah, and now he’s doing it for someone else. “

Literacy for ME, a program of the Maine Department of Education, has set up Little Free Library boxes in five locations across Augusta and plans to have three more by the end of June, just in time for reading. ‘summer.

Small free library is a non-profit organization, described as the “largest book-sharing program”. Anyone can create a free library, using one of the organization’s kits or building one from scratch.

The Literacy for ME program built its first four libraries with the help of a local Scout. The libraries that Literacy for ME has scattered across Augusta are retired in the winter and replaced in late spring each year.

“It is essential that children continue to read through the summer,” said Theresa Violette, President of Literacy for ME and Director of the Title I & McKinney-Vento Liaison at Augusta Public Schools. “There is clear research showing that kids who read who perform better in school, and kids who don’t, fall behind on what’s called the ‘summer slide’.”

Federal law McKinney-Vento provides urgent help to protect and improve the lives and safety of the homeless, with a particular focus on the elderly, the disabled and families with children.

Violette said she helped set up the small free libraries in Augusta during the summer of 2013. Popular libraries can now be found in five locations: Calumet Park, Cunningham Park, McCall’s Park and Williams Park, which are available 24 hours a day. hours a day, seven days a week, and during business hours at the Augusta Adult Education Office at 33 Union Street.

The three new libraries should be in the ground by June 30, according to Violette. They are scheduled at the Buker Community Center, the Webster Center and, during authorized hours, the Augusta Food Bank on Mount Vernon Avenue.

A small free library mounted on a fence around the pool at McCall’s Park playground in Augusta. Joe Phelan / Journal Kennebec Buy this photo

Gay volunteers and others help ensure libraries are stocked with books, and the Capital Region Tech Center helps keep libraries in top condition.

Gay said she stocked libraries with books donated by retired teacher family and friends.

“We have found over time that they are easily used,” said Violette. “It made sense to use all resources in mind. When we go to fill them in the parks, the children come running. It’s exciting. “

She said the thrill of seeing the students and their parents grabbing books was worth it.

Libraries operate under a ‘take a book and leave a book’ philosophy. Violette said Augusta Libraries also donate books, as do teachers who accumulate many books each year. She said the libraries are simply meant to encourage students and their parents to participate and read.

Jim Melcher, professor of political science at the University of Maine at Farmington, established the first Little Free Library in Augusta. He said his inspiration came from being from Madison, Wisconsin, where the nonprofit started, and his following books for his hobby of BookCrossing, the practice consisting of to leave a book in a public place to be picked up and read by others, who then share the book in the same way.

The term comes from, a free online book club that aims to “make the whole world a library”.

Jim Melcher’s little free library at 44 Westwood Road in Augusta. Joe Phelan / Journal Kennebec Buy this photo

Melcher said during the COVID-19 pandemic he noticed students coming to his small free library at 44 Westwood Road when other libraries were not open.

“I think it’s a great idea to encourage people to read and think,” he said. “It allows people in the neighborhood to walk around and put the books in the hands of children who might not otherwise have them. “

Violette said that the literacy aspect provided by the Little Free Library mission is “critical”, especially during the summer. He noted that this year has been unique with the coronavirus pandemic, but the promotion of reading “always” should be done.

Susan Bennett-Armistead, associate professor of literacy at the University of Maine, said students should read at least 20 minutes each day to avoid a “summer slippage.” The example she gave was about exercise – if someone doesn’t train at all in the summer, and then has to spend their days in the fall training for six hours, they’ll be tired.

“In any given year, students risk losing up to a third of what they learned in the previous year,” Bennett-Armistead said.

She said using resources like libraries is “wonderful” for continuing summer reading, especially if a student is interested in a topic they can learn more about through more books.

Bennett-Armistead said all forms of literacy – reading, writing, listening and speaking – are important and encourage families to make the 20 minutes part of their day as they brush their teeth, and the same goes for parents.

“A good indicator for students is the literacy level of everyone around them,” she said. “If parents are models by reading magazines, books or a newspaper, those are good things to recognize.”

Bennett-Armistead, like Violette, said reading in the summer is important, but especially important after the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s easy to give them a pass after the year we’ve had. The argument could be made, after the year we’ve had, but you don’t want to have a tough year next year, ”she said. “You don’t have to have lessons every day, but you can read with the family, read aloud as a family, have the opportunity to interact around the children’s interests and give them the opportunity to be more literate. “

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