If you take a look inside the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Library this December, the lobby will look the same as ever, with tables, chairs, sofas and the entrance to administrative offices. But if you turn toward the corners of the foyer, you will be greeted by dozens of bright, colorful children’s books.
The books gathered in a drop box and shelves are part of the Rock’s holiday book drive. For the second year in a row, the library is collecting children’s books to donate to Rhodes Island nonprofit Books Are Wings. The organization collects and disseminates children’s books to local communities to develop children’s literacy and personal libraries, according to Marlene Roberti, the organization’s interim executive director.
“Our mission is to get books into the hands of children who might not have access to them,” Roberti said. The organization operates primarily in schools in Providence, Pawtucket, Central Falls, Woonsocket and Newport. Books Are Wings implements programming during the school year and summer, including opportunities for students to select free books and summer literacy programs.
“I think we struck a rich vein of opportunity,” said Jennifer Braga, director of library communications and public programs for the University. “Everyone who works at the library has a love of books, and I think there are a lot of staff that … understand the importance of having books in the home for children developing literacy.”
Braga organized the book drive for the first time last December, and it collected 299 children’s books from community members, Braga said. The idea to partner with Books Are Wings came from her daughter’s grade school project which involved collecting and donating “boxes and boxes” of children’s books through the nonprofit.
“I wanted to do something that gave staff the opportunity to give easily and recalled Books Are Wings,” Braga said.
This year, Braga hopes the book drive will collect even more books. The initiative will last through Dec. 16, and Braga said she hopes to conduct the drive annually.
“Now more than ever, rekindling or re-establishing that love of reading is important to have kids be able to not only learn at school but learn at home,” Roberti said. She cited a dip in national reading scores in this year’s National Assessment of Educational Progress — tested grades performed significantly worse on the exam than in past years.
In Providence, schools which lack adequate library facilities or staff instead work with community programs, according to Kelly Clifton, head of library community engagement for the University. “I think in different communities, spaces are sort of stepping up to solve that need,” Clifton said.
Other University library efforts to engage with local communities and organizations coincide with projects related to mass incarceration and prisons. The John Hay Library is acquiring materials for a new collection, Voices of Mass Incarceration in the United States, including the personal papers and artwork of prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal to anchor the collection focused on first-person accounts of incarceration, The Herald previously reported.
In August, University libraries hosted a book drive for Providence Books Through Bars, a nonprofit that sends books to incarcerated people, Clifton said. Around 1,000 books were donated to the organization, collected from “overflow” Brown library books — such as textbooks outdated to current coursework — in addition to donations from community members.
“It's really gratifying for everyone here at the library to be able to give back, to make contributions,” Braga said. “It's particularly nice when it involves literacy.”