Books Empower: How we’re partnering to give new books to people who need them most

Books Empower: Book delivery
Jason Smith, co-owner of The Book Table, delivers boxes of books to New Moms in Oak Park as part of our Books Empower partnership, which gives free books to community members to build their home libraries.

‘The kind of project that makes us love Oak Park’

With funding from the Illinois State Library, we’ve launched an initiative to distribute new, free books to community members who are most in need of resources. Recipients will be able to keep these books forever and use them to build their home libraries.

This new grant-funded initiative is called “Books Empower.” Here’s how it works: With $25,000 in grant funding, the library purchases books from our local, independent bookstore The Book Table.

We then distribute them directly to local community partners, such as New Moms and the Oak Park River Forest Infant Welfare Society (IWS) Children’s Clinic, to give to their clients or participants to keep.  

“We jumped at the chance to be part of this exciting partnership,” says Jason Smith, co-owner of The Book Table. “This is exactly the kind of project that makes us love Oak Park.”

“Studies have shown the impact that book ownership can have on children’s lives, so this is really a project about equity,” Smith adds. “We have also been so impressed with the commitment to diversity that we’ve seen in the book lists. We look forward to our continued partnership.”

‘We use books as a tool to help parents’

By partnering with local nonprofit organizations like New Moms and the IWS Children’s Clinic, the Books Empower initiative is reaching community members who are isolated, most at risk, or experiencing other barriers to accessing reading materials or other resources during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have learned that key community partners and organizations are already reaching these residents to provide a variety of resources and services during the pandemic, including food and medical supplies,” says the library’s Manager of Community Engagement Sarah Yale. “As such, many already have the infrastructure needed to safely distribute books provided to them by the library and our community bookseller The Book Table.”

Before the pandemic, the IWS Children’s Clinic operated a “giving library” that let patients take a book home after any medical or dental visit. Unfortunately, the giving library has been closed because of the pandemic, says Denise Gonzalez, Behavioral Health Director at IWS Children’s Clinic, but the clinic’s library committee continues working hard to try to create bags with a few books for patients to take home and keep. 

“Thanks to the Books Empower donation from the library, we can continue to provide new books to our patients,” Gonzalez says. “We use books as a tool to help parents begin a discussion with their children on topics such as behavioral challenges, feeling, fears, going to school, self esteem and more. The combination of having new books and books on specific topics allow us to continue to support families as well as provide new books for our patients.”

‘We know the importance of books and literacy in a child’s development’

New Moms is another local organization that’s partnering with us to get books to its clients to keep. “We know the importance of books and literacy in a child’s development,” says New Moms Family Support Manager Kimm Pilditch.

“Each time we visit with a family, we try to provide a developmentally appropriate book and an activity that the parent can use to improve literacy skills,” Pilditch says. “We weave these activities into our visits in many ways, teaching the parent how to use storytime effectively and as a tool for quality time between parent and child. Many thanks to the library for partnering with us in this endeavor, and we look forward to how the books benefit the learning and growth of kids in our communities!”

Supporting a lifelong love of reading while representing diverse needs, interests & identities

While the Main Library is currently open and physical materials are available for checkout, the Books Empower initiative is meant to enable community members who are most in need to build their home library collections.

“This supports literacy development, learning, and a lifelong love of reading,” says the library’s Manager of Community Engagement Sarah Yale. “The distributed books might also provide enjoyment and comfort during a stressful and isolating time.”

And to make sure that the books given away meet the specific needs expressed by community partners and include diverse representation in characters, subjects, authors, and illustrators, the library’s Community Engagement team is doing a diversity audit of every book list they order.

“It’s important to us that the books we give out with this grant represent the diverse needs, interests, and identities of the community we and our community partners serve,” Yale says.

The grant period for Books Empower ends in fall 2021.