May 28, 2019

Laundromat libraries are bringing storytime to children


The weekly trip to the laundromat can be a pain—lugging bags of laundry down the block, sitting and waiting for the wash cycle to end, trying to find the person who left their laundry in the dryer while an impatient line of waiting customers builds. Add children into the equation and everything gets that much more stressful.

Enter Chicago Public Library Children’s Librarian Elizabeth McCracken, who is responsible for making laundromats a little bit more literary. Reported by Ann Ford at American Library Magazine, McCracken, began visiting Chicago laundromats in 1989, holding story time for kids who had accompanied their parents on laundry day. McCracken says that these were often families who were unable to attend traditional library story time for a variety of reasons.

The program was a natural success; McCracken told the magazine, “Families are now changing their behavior, showing up to do their laundry when the library is going to be there … One little boy just recently said: ‘Let’s do laundry every day, Mom!’”

Although she refuses to take full credit for the idea, McCracken’s efforts helped to inspire other laundry literary programs throughout the country:

Laundry literacy programs have recently sprung up all over the country, including some sponsored by the Laundry and Literacy Coalition (LLC), a large-scale partnership formed last year between Libraries Without Borders (LWB), the Clinton Foundation’s Too Small to Fail (TSTF) early-childhood initiative, and the Coin Laundry Association’s LaundryCares Foundation (LCF). Along the way, thousands of children have benefited from the chance to hone their early-literacy skills in an everyday setting, often with their parents participating, often on a regular basis, and always for free.

These programs are another way to connect children and the community with books, which is never a bad thing. As we see more and more library budgets getting slashed (*cough De Blasio cough*), alternative and creative ways to get books into the hands of people is becoming a responsibility of our local libraries.

Libraries—making even laundry day fun.



Stephanie DeLuca is the director of publicity at Melville House.