Jaclyn Boland: How to Build a Sustainable Lending Library for your Literacy Program

Jaclyn Boland

One of my first projects as a VISTA was to establish a sustainable lending library. Our lending library has become a valuable resource to the families we serve and continues to grow with donated items from community partners. Establishing a lending library for your literacy program can become a sustainable resource not only for the families that you serve but the community as well.

With no library in walking distance, our families had no access to books. When a community partner asked if we wanted a cart they were no longer using, we jumped at the opportunity. We wanted to create a lending library to provide easy access to a collection of books, puzzles, learning games and resources. The families would be able to check out items, take them home, and return them the following class.

Our family literacy program utilizes the first twenty minutes to engage parents and children in reading together. As parents became comfortable reading to their children and children began to enjoy being read to, the lending library g the families the materials necessary to implement reading at home.

Getting Started

Family at United Methodist Cooperative Ministries

The first step (and potentially most challenging part) will be to find space for the library. It can be a bookshelf, closet, or a rolling cart. The rolling cart provides space, storage and added mobility, which has proven useful (especially if you have limited/shared space).

Materials come next. I created 4 sections of the library. Within each section, I made a list of materials I wanted to include. This helped me to determine what materials needed.

    • Parent Resources (parent magazines, pamphlets, books)
    • English Books (board books, chapter books, picture books, dictionaries, etc)
    • Bi-lingual Books (Spanish, Arabic, etc.)
    • Take-Home activities (puzzles, flash cards, file folder games, etc.)

The lending library includes much more than books.  Puzzles, learning games, flashcards, etc. are included too. Don’t feel that you have to limit yourself. Creating your own lending library is unique in that it can be customized to fit the needs of your students and your program!

Once you know what types of materials you need, start looking! Most of the materials in our lending library were donated. The benefit of using donated materials is that we aren’t as concerned with unreturned items. Talk to your community partners and volunteers about your project! Let them know what types of materials you are looking for (children’s books) and how it will benefit the students/community. Be on the lookout for garage sales and local library book sales. Donations and children’s books are easy to come by. Also, be creative with what you already have!

Once you have the materials, organization is key. Within the English and Bi-Lingual Book Sections, I divided the books by reading level (Young Adult, Adult, etc.) and designated each level with a colored sticker on the spine of the book (see picture) and placed like colors together on the cart. This is very helpful for students and it also helps the student put the book back in the correct section of the library. I also added a “Property Of” sticker on the back of each item.

I then created rules for the lending library, which were placed in a binder with the sign in/out sheets containing the parents name, date, type of material (book, puzzle) and title. A volunteer oversees the library. Also, keep an Excel spreadsheet of the library inventory.

The Result
Families have reported that with the help of the lending library they have developed a reading routine at home, they are reading more often at home and their children now request bedtime stories.

I hope that you see the benefit of a lending library and begin to implement one into your literacy program!

Jaclyn Boland is an AmeriCorps* VISTA with United Methodist Cooperative Ministries. 

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