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Spreading the word: City official launches initiative to boost Little Free Library program in ABQ

Jan Bandrofchak with a Little Free Library in an Albuquerque neighborhood. (Courtesy of Jan Bandrofchak)

A trip to a bookstore inspired Kelsea Kilbride to launch an initiative that would take free books and literary resources to various parts of Albuquerque.

Kilbride, who is part of the AmeriCorps VISTA program and outreach and engagement coordinator for the city of Albuquerque’s office of civic engagement, noticed significant traffic while picking up a book the day before the state shutdown of businesses and libraries due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We started to think about what kind of different ways we could start providing some resources or some book drives maybe, or things like that, but we decided a more sustainable option would be to reach out to the Little Free Library because they’ve always been a resource in our communities and that they would be a great partner, especially during the coronavirus time, since they were also adapting so much,” Kilbride said. “They had guidance to how to safely share books and had little free pantries that were popping up where people were donating canned goods or hand sanitizer and toilet paper and things like that. So they just seemed like a really great person to try to reach out to try to help fill this gap that’s going to appear as coronavirus started to set in.”

An enclosed Little Free Library offers a neighborhood book exchange in an Albuquerque residential area. (Courtesy of Paul Afek)

Little Free Library is a nonprofit organization that inspires a love of reading, builds community and improves book access by fostering neighborhood book-exchange boxes around the world. There are more than 100,000 registered Little Free Library book-sharing boxes worldwide in all 50 states and in 108 countries, according to a Little Free Library news release. The city of Albuquerque has about 60 registered little libraries but informally there are most likely dozens more, Kilbride said.

The city has also received about 30 inquiries in the last couple months from people looking to build one. Organizations and individuals that do not have the means or face barriers to build a little library can apply for grant through the Impact Library Program.

Some of the little libraries around Albuquerque are themed. Children’s books and young adult literature are common offerings.

A Little Free Library offers a variety of books to an Albuquerque community. (Courtesy of Paula Fromen)

“We’ve actually had some teachers from around the community reach out and say that they want to build their own little library at their local school because they know that kids are suddenly losing a lot of their access to literacy resources and books,” Kilbride said. “But we’ve also recently seen some folks having conversations about getting social justice- and racial justice-themed libraries set up in the community. That’s especially prevalent in the International District. There’s a lot of organizations out there that have worked really hard to have social justice-themed libraries that include Black or Indigenous authors or books about race and injustice.”

The city of Albuquerque’s office of civic engagement seeks to find creative ways for people to get involved in their communities. The office was created about a year ago.

“Our main platform that we do that through is through the One ABQ volunteer website, where any community organization can post a service opportunity,” David ChenĂ©, civic engagement manager with the city of Albuquerque. “We also have the city opportunities there so our main mission is to really create a volunteerism hub where anyone can find an opportunity with what they want to do.”

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