CELI, Local Groups Help Little Free Library Program Grow

Partners add six new book exchanges in Lafayette County

One of the community’s newest Little Free Libraries is at Mary Cathey Head Start Center. Photo by David Brown/First Regional Library

The Lafayette County and Oxford Public Library has teamed up with the University of Mississippi Center for Excellence in Literacy Instruction and the LOU Reads Coalition to install six new Little Free Libraries in Lafayette County.

The small book exchanges, which operate on a “take a book, return a book” basis, are at Lafayette County fire stations in Harmontown and Paris and on Highway 30 East, as well as at Mary Cathey Head Start Center, Gordon Community and Cultural Center in Abbeville and in the Community Green neighborhood.

While three other officially registered Little Free Libraries have been set up in Oxford, including those at Avent Park and the Stone Center, several unofficial libraries exist in town. That’s why the Lafayette County and Oxford Public Library, CELI and LOU Reads chose to focus their efforts on communities in the county.

“We know that it can be much harder for those who live in the outer reaches of the county to make it to the public library, and Little Free Libraries allow us to take a bit of the library to them,” said Nancy Opalko, children’s librarian and assistant branch manager at the Lafayette County and Oxford Public Library.

The libraries were built by Oxford resident and Ole Miss student Harriman Abernathy with materials donated by Elliott Lumber Co. Each library is overseen by an individual steward in that community who checks it weekly to ensure it is stocked and in good repair.

“We are so excited to have a Little Free Library here,” says Harmontown resident and First Regional Library staff member Randie Cotton, who serves as steward of the Little Free Library there.

“People can just grab a book for themselves or their kids on their way to and from work or church and bring them back when they’re done. It doesn’t get much easier than that!”

The libraries are stocked with books for both children and adults. Putting books in the hands of children is a priority for the library, CELI and LOU Reads. All three organizations are part of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, a nationwide effort that focuses on grade-level reading by the end of third grade, an important predictor of school success and high school graduation.

In Mississippi, 74 percent of fourth-graders and 80 percent of eighth-graders scored below proficient in reading on the 2015 National Assessment of Education Progress.

“The Little Free Libraries make it easy for parents and caregivers to make reading and early literacy skills a fun part of everyday life starting at birth, which is critical to their children’s early development and how they do in school,” said Angela Rutherford, CELI director.

Besides books, the libraries contain information for parents and caregivers about how to use books and other resources to develop children’s early learning skills.

“This library really supplements all we do to promote family literacy every day by putting more books in the hands of our students and their caregivers,” said Charline Hubbard, director of the Mary Cathey Head Start Center. “They love having it here so they can just pick up or bring back a book as they come and go every day.”

Little Free Libraries are a global phenomenon, with more than 36,000 around the world in 70 countries. The Little Free Library nonprofit organization has been honored by the Library of Congress, the National Book Foundation and the American Library Association. Each year, nearly 10 million books are shared in Little Free Libraries.

To learn more, visit https://littlefreelibrary.org/.


By Meredith Wulff

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