Well, that’s deplorable solace. Books, on the other hand…
— Craig Minassian (@MinassianMedia) December 26, 2018
The research is all but irrefutable: Parents of very young children who talk to, read and engage with them as often as possible help them build literacy skills at an early age – an educational foundation that can give kids a jump-start on future academic success.
Also certain: Parents of very young children usually have to do a lot of laundry. And low-income families tend to bring their kids with them to public laundromats.
Those truths converge once a week at select neighborhood laundromats in Chicago. That’s when librarians from one of the nation’s largest library systems lay down colorful mats, oversized board books and musical shakers beside the industrial washing machines and wire laundry baskets.
Inside one of about 14 laundromats in the city’s low-income neighborhoods, the librarians gather all available children for Laundromat Story Time, a Chicago Public Library program that combines early education principles with public outreach and a dash of parental modeling.
Amid the muffled churn of the washers and the humming of dryers, anywhere between a handful to more than a dozen children hear stories, sing songs and play games designed to help their brains develop. The event also aims to tacitly instruct parents on how to repeat the experience for their kids, working to reverse poor literacy rates in underserved communities…
And it clearly meets a need: Library officials say the program is in increasing demand, while Rudl says families have adjusted their household’s laundry day to coincide with librarians’ laundromat visits. At the same time, Laundromat Story Time’s co-sponsors – including a laundry industry trade group and Libraries Without Borders, an organization fighting poverty through literacy – have worked with the CPL to draft an instruction manual to help expand the concept to other U.S. cities…
Although the Chicago Public Library has been among the vanguard of those bringing library services to laundromats in recent years, both Libraries Without Borders and the LaundryCares Foundation – the charitable arm of industry trade group the Coin Laundry Association – had similar plans in the works, and library-laundromat efforts have cropped up in cities like Detroit, New York, Pittsburgh and St. Paul, Minnesota, as well.
Adam Echelman, incoming executive director of Libraries Without Borders, says the idea took root for his organization – which brings books to refugee camps, poverty-stricken areas and disaster zones around the world – following a massive and deadly earthquake in Haiti in 2010.
“We reassessed – ‘There’s just been a devastating earthquake. Now is not the time for library services,” Echelman says. But when quake survivors kept asking for books anyway, he says, his organization decided to test a concept: the Ideas Box, a small, free-standing kiosk with books for loan and a computer terminal.
When it became a hit overseas (“We set it up in Haiti, Burundi, Jordan, Lebanon and Greece, where they were welcoming migrants,” Echelman says) the New York Public Library system, he says, got wind of the idea and wanted to bring it there. Another pilot program showed that the Ideas Box did best on a particular street corner of a low-income neighborhood in Manhattan – usage was booming but officials weren’t sure why.
“There are three things that make laundries unique,” Echelman says. “One, people are stuck there, sometimes for hours. The second thing is people come back every week. Third, it’s a space that’s open almost 24/7. Put those things together, and it’s kind of a great space” to reach children and their parents…
Read the whole thing, and feel better about the future.