By Liz Nolan, Contributing writer
NORTHBOROUGH – Kristen Wixted and Heather Kelly are passionate about making books available to all children.
Knowing the disparity in access to books for so many families, they formed a non-profit organization, Small book rack.
Wixted is a member of the board of directors of Northborough Select and an author of children’s books. Kelly is also an author of children’s books.
Similar to the concept of Little Free Libraries, Little Book Locker offers free, new and lightly used books. Unlike libraries, however, Little Book Lockers are specifically placed in areas of vulnerability, containing books specifically intended for children in those areas.
Each site is monitored so that books can be restocked as needed.
The highlights of the pandemic need
Wixted and Kelly feel the gap between those “who have and those who don’t” has widened during the pandemic.
“A lot of people are struggling financially and have access to help for other things, but books for their children are not a priority,” Wixted said.
As their non-profit organization grew, finding locations to install the book lockers was a challenge.
“We see a need and we want to fill it, and we have the resources to do it,” Kelly said. “It’s about spreading the word and raising awareness. Our goal is to get books into the hands of vulnerable children.
It costs around $ 100 for the locker itself. But the biggest expense is the cost of the books themselves, with picture books and graphic novels being the most expensive.
Organizers focus on diversity in book selection
The two authors are part of The writer’s loft, a group of mutually supportive local writers and illustrators and independent booksellers.
Kelly said half of the books in Little Book Locker are donations. The other half is purchased either from independent bookstores or from First Book, another nonprofit that offers children’s books at a lower cost. A variety of books are chosen for each locker.
Kelly and Wixted try to come up with books with specific topics and a diverse portrayal of the characters, such as LGBTQ characters or characters of color.
They are also looking for authors and illustrators as diverse as the readers of the books can be.
It is important to include in the lockers books published in different languages which can be adapted to bilingual communities.
Organizers Research New Book Locker Sites
The majority of book lockers will be located in Massachusetts.
Locations to date include a Revere Day Care Center, a Medical Clinic in Dorchester, a Family Medicine Clinic in Gardner, and the YMCA of Merrimack Valley in Lawrence. Main Street Pastries and More in Northborough hosts a book locker for families participating in the Hope Bread Program, a program that provides bread to families in need.
More than 2,000 books have been donated since the first book locker was created in December 2020. Support from the communities where the lockers are placed has made this possible, note Kelly and Wixted.
Kelly and Wixted have teamed up with Raise an MA-drive, which has been an important resource for connecting with site contacts.
“It’s a balance of patience and organization,” Wixted said. “I have boxes of books waiting to go to the kids, but I need a place to put them away.”
You can find information on how to host or sponsor a book locker or donate online at www.littlebooklocker.org. Questions can be emailed to [email protected].
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