November 18, 2017

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How To Crowdsource a Library

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The fully-stocked junior/senior high school library in Greenville, CA

“Just. One. Book.” On June 7, writer and mom of two Margaret Elysia Garcia opened her blog, “Throwing Chanclas,” with those three powerful words. It was a crowdsourced plea for donations to rebuild the library at the Greenville Junior/Senior High School (GHS) in her rural hometown of Greenville, CA. The Indian Valley Academy charter school, which has shared the building since 2012, would benefit from the new collection as well.

The current stacks were woefully out of date. Perennially short on funds, the school had stopped purchasing new texts for the library approximately 20 years earlier. Administrators made the collection completely off-limits to students once the part-time librarian’s aide position was eliminated in 2006. When Garcia and other parents volunteered to check out and re-shelve books, they were told that staff union restrictions prohibited it.

“So here’s what I’m asking,” Garcia continued. “Will you donate a book? A real book. Something literary or fun—something that speaks to your truth, [the kids’] truths. Something that teaches them something about the world. Makes them feel less alone?”

Garcia

Margaret Elysia Garcia

Garcia had wanted to launch a similar campaign for years. “We’re a very rural community that doesn’t have a lot of resources,” she says. “We’re pretty isolated here. A lot of our kids don’t have access to many age-appropriate books.” Garcia felt the need was especially urgent since the town’s small branch library wasn’t open on weekends and there is no bookstore in Greenville, a town of only 1,100 roughly 175 miles north of Sacramento. She also knew the transformative power of reading firsthand: A self-described shy Army brat who moved often as a child, she relied on the characters of books to serve as companions as she made the transition to each new town. Plus, her 13-year-old attends the charter school and her 11-year-old will be entering in the fall. “I wanted these kids to be able to physically browse shelves,” she says. “It’s one thing to search for a specific book online; it’s a completely different experience to discover that perfect book that you didn’t even know existed.”

Where previous GHS administrations had replied no to her offer to help rebuild the library, new principal Jerry Merica-Jones said yes, as did Indian Valley Charter School director Sue Weber. “Anything we have to do to get books in kids’ hands,’” says Weber. “I never expected this reaction, though. I thought we’d get a few hundred books.”

As Garcia’s call for help spread, texts poured in. Thousands of them.

Her original blog post was shared more than 3,000 times, helped by two online writers’ organization to which she belongs. Author Neil Gaiman retweeted one of her Twitter posts, as did Monty Python’s Eric Idle.

At the request of donors, Garcia posted a wish list to Amazon.com and to the bookstore in a neighboring town, which offered a twenty percent discount on all volumes purchased for the project. The wish lists made it easier for donors to know what the schools needed and to avoid duplication – or in some cases to duplicate deliberately in order to create classroom sets.

She and the faculty at the schools particularly wanted books by women, by people of color, and those told from the LGBTQ point of view. They requested graphic novels and zines and comics as well as science books and poetry books and classics to grab the attention of both devoted and reluctant readers, provide resources for teachers, and help instill a love of reading that would hopefully last a lifetime. “Books provide a window to the world that you don’t get in any other context — a different cultural experience — especially for kids in a small town, and we need that,” says Merica-Jones.

As the volume of donations became apparent, the community pitched in to help. Neighbors arrived to recycle boxes and packaging. Students from both schools, through with classes for the summer, volunteered to unpack, sort, and shelve books; send a thank you note to every donor; and begin scanning texts. “The kids felt like it was Christmas opening the boxes,” says Garcia. “A title would catch someone’s eye and I’d hear, ‘Can I take a break? I want to stop and read this one!’”

After discussion with students, the schools have decided to organize the library by genre for easy browsing and will use the TinyCat system to catalog the new collection. Students and volunteers, led by Garcia, will check out and re-shelve books once classes begin. The staff union restrictions expired after the position was vacant for five years, confirms Merica-Jones.

Volunteers are also giving the physical space a much-needed makeover. In fact, students at Indian Valley Academy had brainstormed ways to reimagine the library space as part of an XQ: The Super School Project competition just months earlier. Among their ideas now being implemented: repaint the walls a friendly blue with clouds (art students will tackle this task in the fall), separate the junior high books to make them easier to locate, add area rugs and bean bag chairs (already contributed by donors), and provide dedicated computer stations (made possible by grants and donations).

Garcia estimates the schools have received approximately 10,000 books, as well as a telescope, bookshelves, gift cards, school supplies, DVDs, offers from authors to Skype throughout the school year, and more. The collection has grown so robust, Greenville has been able to donate more than 2,000 duplicates to nearby schools.

A few of the happy benefactors of Just. One. Book.

A few of the happy beneficiaries of Just. One. Book.

“We really struck a chord,” says Garcia. “We received so many books from librarians and signed books from authors. And we got a lot of donations with notes from people who said, ‘I grew up in a small town, and I lived in the library, and books saved me. I know there has to be a kid in your town like me. I want to give back.’” There were so many touching messages that Garcia and Weber have decided to keep them in a notebook in the new library as a reminder of the outpouring of generosity that the town experienced.

As Merica-Jones says, “This has just been a miraculous, serendipitous experience.”


Mary Giles, the former deputy editor of Family Fun, reports and writes on a variety of topics surrounding children from her home in Massachusetts. 

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Comments

  1. It makes my heart glad to know that everywhere you can go, someone is aware of the need for books. It makes me even gladder to see people giving to a worthwhile cause. So delighted!

  2. Jessica says:

    You mentioned TinyCat, but I thought it would also be worth noting Libib.com as well.

    It’s what we use at my school, primarily as a tool for each teacher to have their own library catalog. All students can then search across all the teacher libraries at once, or just their own teacher’s library. It’s been a big hit for us.