November 21, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Philly Girl Scout Creates Community Lending Library  

Jane Marston, left, and Alexis in their new lending library. Photo by

Jane Marston, left, and Alexsis Davis in their new lending library. Photo by Erin Wilson

Alexsis Davis, 16, joined Girl Scout troop 97183 in the Olney/Seltonville section of Philadelphia seven years ago as a way to meet new people. Now her vest is covered in badges and she’s working towards achieving the organization’s highest honor, the Gold Award.

To earn that distinction, Davis must complete an 80-hour project that helps her community. She chose to create a lending library at Tabor Lutheran Church after her scout leader suggested that Davis try to do a project based on her own experience.

A self-described avid reader, Davis remembers how difficult it was to procure the books on her class’s summer reading lists. “I’d have to get the books from the library, but I’d take longer to read them than the two weeks the library gave me.”

A bookstore is only 10 minutes away, according to Davis’s mother, but for those in the working class neighborhood, money for a personal book collection is not always available. “I know it was hard for my parents,” Davis says, “so I wanted to do a library for the kids in the area.”

Her timing couldn’t have been better. The local public library’s hours had just been reduced, and Tabor’s decade-old after-school program had also been shuttered. The irony was that the area was one where students were testing at below-average reading levels.

Davis saw a clear need in her community and an opportunity to help with her effort, which she named Project Read. Davis then came up with a slogan: “Raising our reading levels one book at a time.”

Jane Marston, Tabor’s pastor, knows Davis through her congregation. She helped drum up book donations from the Junior Library Guild. She also bought very inexpensive used books as she came across them. Those, combined with books donated by church members, local schools, and friends, along with the books that had been a part of the closed after-school program, soon totaled about 1,300 titles.

Davis’s lending library opened in September 2015. The collection spans a wide age range, from Dr. Seuss and Frog and Toad to Charlotte’s Web and series novels such as “Harry Potter” and “Percy Jackson.” Though the library is based in a house of worship, many titles are secular.

Local teens browse the Project Read lending library. Photo by Alexsis Davis

Local teens browse the Project Read lending library. Photo by Alexsis Davis

Davis opens the library two Saturdays a month, for now. It’s the most she can manage with her busy schedule. The high school junior is involved with robotics, participates in church activities, and plays guitar.

Though Davis originally considered a book give-away for her project, the Girl Scouts required that the project be sustainable after she completes her 80 hours. Both Davis and Marston have plans for the library post-project.  The first order of business will be spring cleaning, which will make the space more conducive to reading. “We’ll move two cabinets [in order] to add [a] story-time area with chairs and beanbags,” Davis says. She also hopes to have a bookcase built.

Beyond that, the intent is to expand the program to more community members by getting the word out. Davis is promoting the project on Facebook and will extend the library’s hours. “We’re looking to open it on Wednesday afternoons and start publicizing it with schools in the area,” Marston says. “I remember hanging out in the library after school,” recalls Marston. “That’s virtually gone. Now the schools close the instant the kids let out. The other idea I have is to allow people to do tutoring on our premises.”

While the project is still in early stages, Davis has gotten good feedback from the community.  Starting and running the lending library has helped her, too, beyond getting an award. “I’ve learned the importance of hard work, planning, and communication. I’ve had to learn to communicate professionally in writing a little bit more.” Meanwhile, Marston appreciates that the church has become more hospitable and useable.

A lot of good happens when Girl Scouts think outside the cookie box.

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Comments

  1. Kimberly King says:

    That is really neat project! I am also a Girl Scout leader as well as a Children’s Librarian. I know girls in our area struggle with project ideas for their Gold Awards. I am glad to see a young lady succeeding with a great and I sure much needed service in her area.

    • I admire Alexsis Davis’ commitment to volunteer service through the Girls Scouts organization and her community. Project Read is a good initiative to promote literacy and reading itself as an engaging activity. I hope that Project Reads will continue to thrive, “Raising our reading levels one book at a time.”

  2. Congratulations, Alexsis, on a wonderful project to fill a need and provide a service to your community! That’s what Girl Scouts are all about!