November 2, 2016

Dallas formally legalizes Little Free Libraries; residents hope they can help children living in book deserts


GardnerPrep2After a yearlong deliberation, the Dallas City Council has legalized, with no restrictions, Little Free Libraries. If even considering barring these tiny goodwill repositories seems Scrooge-like to you, well, much of the council agrees. Robert Wilonsky reports for the Dallas Morning News.

“We’ve got big problems in Dallas, and it’s not Little Free Libraries,” said North Dallas’ Jennifer Staubach Gates. “It’s just not. We cannot be known as the city that regulates Little Free Libraries. What’s next? Tree houses? We’re going to make it not fun for a kid to live in Dallas.”

Council members believe that one person was behind the eleven complaints they received, all focusing on one particular structure, which led to the full year of deliberations. The power of activism!

“Well, for all you kids listening at home, if anyone ever tells you one person can’t make a difference,” said East Dallas’ Philip Kingston, “remember one jerk using 311 in District 10 caused us all to waste our time here and caused the loss of hundreds of staff hours.”

But now that the drama has wrapped up, there’s hope that Little Free Libraries can at least start to address the issue that many neighborhoods offer their residents extremely limited access to books, or none at all.

In an op-ed, also in the Dallas Morning News, Amruta Salkaker writes that only thirty-four percent of the city’s third-graders read at grade level, and a lack of available resources in many neighborhoods is partly to blame.

A quick search on google maps shows that with no bookstores in south, southwest or southeast parts of Dallas, many families must drive 12 to 15 miles to west Dallas to find affordable book stores like Half Price Books. Even the branch public library a few miles away is not accessible for some children because they must walk across a highway and or take a 40 minute bus ride to get there.

These neighborhood without access have been described as book deserts.

Children of such neighborhoods are living in book deserts. A recent study published in the Urban Education journal describes book deserts as those neighborhoods where it is impossible for kids to find books to read, with no access to affordable books, no walkable public library, no internet facility at home and insufficient supply of books at school creates. Children in some areas have little to no choice of books at dollar stores, drug stores and supermarkets in their neighborhoods. Whereas, kids in neighborhoods in other parts of Dallas can choose from Barnes and Noble, Half Price Books, Brookhaven Bookstore and other book sellers.

Just as living in a food desert can have serious and permanent effects on a child’s health, growing up in a book desert impacts literacy rates and social mobility.

The lack of books creates a Catch 22 for children from poor families. Without better reading skills, they will struggle to move out of poverty, research shows. Addressing book deserts is vital in our fight for urban literacy and against poverty.

In the absence of full libraries or bookstores, Little Free Libraries can operate as a stopgap, giving children a chance to practice reading, and maybe even learn to love it. No matter what one scrooge in District 10 thinks.



Julia Fleischaker is a former director of marketing and publicity at Melville House.