Jerry L. Johns Literacy Clinic to open Little Free Library at Glidden Homestead

NIU’s Jerry L. Johns Literacy Clinic will open its 10th Little Free Library next semester in front of the historic Joseph F. Glidden Homestead and Historical Center.

Kristine Wilke, the clinic’s new director, is excited to secure the 921 W. Lincoln Hwy. location just steps from a pair of Huskie Bus Line Route 2Rstops to “give everybody the opportunity to get their hands on a good book and to read a book.”

It comes at the invitation of Rob Glover, executive director of the Glidden Homestead, who with his wife has visited the literacy clinic to donate books. District 428 school buses also pick up and drop off children nearby each day, making it “an area of need.”

“The premise of Little Free Libraries is ‘Take a Book, Leave a Book,’ ” Wilke says, “but we don’t care if they don’t leave or return the books. We just want the books to be in the hands of people, because if they’re not in their hands, then they can’t read them. We just want to make sure those books are out there.”

Launched in 2009 by the late Todd Bol, of Hudson, Wis., the Little Free Libraries movement gained national media attention in 2011. By the end of that year, there were 400 around the country. By the end of 2012, there were more than 4,000.

Easy access to books makes a significant difference in the lives of children from disadvantaged families.

Research shows that children growing up in homes without books are on average three years behind children in homes with books. Sixty-one percent of low-income families do not have age-appropriate books in the home.

Kristine Wilke
Kristine Wilke

Accordingly, NIU’s Little Free Libraries are scattered across DeKalb with additional sites in Sycamore and Cortland. A full list of locations is available online.

Graduate Assistant Brandon Roppel inspects and refreshes each location once a week, Wilke says, stocking them with new books and shuffling old ones around “so that those do visit frequently will have the opportunity to have alternative titles.”

Containing works for all ages – adults include – as well as books written in Spanish, the clinic’s Little Free Libraries are old newspaper vending machines donated by the DeKalb Daily Chronicle.

Vending machines with libros en Español stand outside AB Supermarket, the Mexican grocery store at 1612 Sycamore Road, and Flamingo Ice Cream and Restaurant, the Mexican eatery at 1029 Pleasant St.

University Village and the Lions Club in Cortland are other heavily trafficked sites.

One box is located at Lions Park, 700 W. Taylor Street in DeKalb.

“Lions Park was being remodeled, and I actually walk through there every day on my walks, and I thought it would make a wonderful place to house a Little Free Library,” Wilke says. “It serves so many community members. Children are always there playing and swinging on swings; families are grilling. It’s such a wonderful landscape.”

DeKalb Park District Executive Director Amy Doll worked with Wilke and former Literacy Clinic Director Susan Massey to finalize the contract, Wilke says. “Our partnership with the park district is an exciting thing for us, and we’d like to partner in more locations,” she says.

Members of the community can become partners as well by donating books.

All kinds are welcome, although the current greatest need is for picture books. Popular series such as “The Hunger Games,” “Divergent” and “Percy Jackson” resonate well with young readers. Educational books also are encouraged.

The clinic director, who frequents garage and rummage sales to buy used books for the cause, is a passionate advocate for the power of literacy and the role of Little Free Libraries in that mission.

“Books are a gateway to the world. They ignite imagination, discovery and the desire for continued questioning, and by developing these skills early, we are establishing the foundation needed to succeed not only in education, but in life in general,” Wilke says.

“Without reading, what do you have? If a child isn’t exposed to books, and to the print in those books, and the pictures, and given the chance to make connections to their own lives, they can’t live beyond the walls in their own home,” she adds.

“Reading gives them the opportunity for continued learning and the ability to participate in life to the fullest. Reading allows them the creativity to form TVs in their minds, and that’s something our children are starting to lose. Everything is created for them.”

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