Little libraries serving a large purpose
The Arizona Republic
Jul. 14, 2006
Apartments turn new page in promoting literacy
The chatter of kids hovers above the humming swamp cooler and the roar of a
power saw from outside.
Yet, the noise doesn't disturb those on the second floor of the Due South
Apartments, where a purple curtain is drawn, signaling its small library is open
The biblioteca, which serves about 200 residents, highlights a growing trend in
urban apartment complexes that now feature libraries for residents. Often tiny
nooks in complexes' common areas, the libraries are relatively inexpensive to
start because of their size. But residents say they can't put a price on the
ventures, which help bolster their English literacy skills.
Recently at Due South, 12 children and a volunteer reader cram into a sagging
beige sofa. All eyes are glued on the children's book Animal Tracks read by
Roosevelt School District teacher Krista Smith.
A toddler sits on a careworn blue carpet, busy chewing on the edge of a book,
while his distracted baby-sitter holds onto the child's pants leg.
Listening to Smith read and hanging out with friends are the best part of
visiting the library, said 9-year-old Lucio Contreras.
The Valley View School fourth-grader has been a regular at the library for two
years. When school is in session, he brings his homework for assistance.
"I come here almost every day. I learned a lot of English words listening to
Miss Smith. I try to speak English like her," Contreras said. "I also like to
color and play checkers."
The library, once a storage facility, helps bolster the reading and writing
skills of about 90 Valley View students from Due South - students whose families
typically can't afford to purchase children's books, school officials said.
"Its (Due South's) residents are probably among the poorest in our attendance
area," said Valley View Principal John Wann. "This library has served as a
literacy site, a place to do homework, and a community link with the school."
A borrowed design
Wann hatched the "in-home" library idea in 1994 when the school partnered with
the Junior League of Phoenix, Inc., which provided $10,000 to establish the
library. It's patterned after a rural library model from Mexico called Rincones
de Lectura (Literature Corners).
At first, the tiny libraries opened in residents' homes. But in 1999, Wann
approached Due South owners about opening a small room for literacy. An
apartment owner's approval is key to the survival of the libraries, Wann said.
Several other libraries, inspired by the "in-house" project, closed because of
management changes in 2003, he added.
Funding for the library comes from federal dollars, tax credit donations,
neighborhood block grants and private donations. Readers volunteer their time.
Smith, who also works at a Starbucks, oversees community literacy and gardening
at Valley View. During the school year, the Due South library is open 2 to 3
p.m. weekdays. Summer hours vary, depending on the volunteer's schedule.
"Sometimes the library feels small when you get 30 kids in here," Smith said.
"They play checkers, play cards and work on art projects on the floor."
Convenience is key for young patrons like Rosa Gudiņo, who lives 10 steps from
the library and can hear Smith's keys jingle and the sound of the purple curtain
"I read Junie B. Jones books," said the 9-year-old. "It's about this cute girl
with a little brother named Stink and how they have fun."
The nook has inspired other Gudiņo family members to become interested in
libraries. On Sunday's the entire family drives to the Ocotillo public library
branch to enjoy some quality time with books, Rosa said.