Small efforts help library accessibility widen in Richmond

Sixth grader Clemon Brown loves reading books, but he has a hard time finding books outside of school.

“Two weeks ago, I was sitting in my room [and] I want to read a book,” Brown said. He said he wanted to visit a library, but his mom’s car wasn’t working at the time.

Brown lives in North Richmond, almost three miles away from the nearest Richmond public library.

“That’s really the difficulty,” Richmond Public Library Director Katy Curl said. “[We’re] trying to make sure that we take into account that it’s hard for some people to access us.”

With only three library branches in a city that cover thirty square miles, Curl is looking for solutions. Curl said they want to make sure that they are trying to find a way to meet residents’ needs in different ways.

But even for those who do live near a library, the branches are closed Fridays through Sundays. “It may seem a given that Saturdays work, but sometimes Saturdays are when everyone’s running around doing their errands. So will they actually come in on a Saturday? So they need an extra evening?” Curl asked.

Richmond has a book mobile and will soon have a smaller book van, both running on a schedule of visits to schools and neighborhoods.

And now a grant from the city is paving the way for community members to provide support to the Richmond Public Library’s outreach efforts, through Richmond Little Free Libraries, which lets people create tiny mini-libraries in public spaces. “I thought to myself, what an amazing concept,” said Cristal Banagan. She is the program manager for the public art project, which won a $4,000-grant from the City Arts and Culture Commission late last year.

Banagan said the Little Free Libraries made it “very achievable” for one or two people to get together and institute a little free library in their own neighborhood. A book lover and independent tutor, Banagan started with fundraisers like bake sales and asking for donations to install two Little Free Libraries last year in North Richmond and on Murdock Street.

With the grant, Banagan said four more Little Free Libraries would be set up soon at different locations around the city. “[It’s] putting a big spotlight on the movement around what we’re trying to achieve here in Richmond, which is focus on education and community,” Banagan said.

Within the first month of that the Little Free Libraries were open to the public, Banagan said she saw books in them that she didn’t put there before, meaning that passersby were donating their own books. “That’s really exciting, to see new literature in the library,” she said.

Curl said that the Richmond Public Library supports the initiative. “None of us feel we’re in competition. We’re all out there trying to get that stuff out to kids as much as possible,” Curl said.

And for kids like Clemon Brown, books could be a key to success down the road. “I like adventure books and mystery books,” he said. “I like using my imagination, because I want to be an artist when I grow up.”

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