Little libraries serving a large purpose
The Arizona Republic
Jul. 14, 2006

Betty Reid
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 for business.

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 being drawn.

"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.