• Today is: Sunday, August 18, 2019

Brashear students build literacy one Little Free Library at a time

Jill Greenwood
May21/ 2015

Students at Pittsburgh’s Brashear High School are hoping their hard work will inspire a lifelong love of reading in the Pittsburgh community.

Thanks to help from local parent Debra Smallwood, the teens built more than 40 Little Free Libraries to be distributed throughout Pittsburgh. “The overall goal is to provide free books to communities and promote reading and literacy,” says Smallwood. “Also students and schools are not always connected with the communities that surround their school and this is a great way to get them engaged.”

Smallwood, a volunteer with the Neighborhood Learning Alliance, mentored a cohort of young Brashear students through the United Way’s Be There campaign. Under her guidance, the group evolved into student-leaders determined to make a positive difference in both their school and the Greater Pittsburgh community. And Smallwood wanted to help.

“After I saw the Little Free Library near my house, I thought it would be great to get the kids building some of their own,” says Smallwood. “It’s a way to bring more books into these neighborhoods, some of which have lost their public libraries recently. It’s also a great way to connect kids with the communities where they live and go to school.”

Smallwood contacted Brashear’s Construction Technology teacher Steven Fortunato for help and the idea quickly snowballed. Within two weeks, teachers, students and mentors had constructed and decorated more than 40 libraries–with plans for more to come in the future. Smallwood also formed strategic partnerships with other local nonprofits including Repair the World, which was working on a similar project.

“This is not just about the Little Free Libraries though,” says Smallwood. “It’s about literacy for our children. It’s about these students, our schools, the district and the community working together to achieve a common goal–to make kids successful.” Smallwood even hopes to expand the concept further by stocking the libraries with books on PPS’ summer reading list and by starting a monthly community book club to meet at different locations in the city. “We really, really want to see this grow into something much bigger,” says Smallwood.

The libraries will be unveiled at the Mattress Factory on May 23 from 12-5 p.m. Anyone who brings five or more books to donate to the project will get free admission to the Mattress Factory on this day. And anyone attending the event can also “adopt” a library to take home.

The remaining libraries will be distributed throughout the city and some have already found future homes, including one slated to live outside the Northside Common Ministries on Brighton Rd. and another at State Rep. Jake Wheatley‘s office in the Hill District. Organizers are also working with Citiparks to place libraries in local recreation and senior centers. And with the promising collaboration between the students at Brashear, the Neighborhood Learning Alliance, the United Way and Repair the World, there are many more Little Free Libraries on the way for Pittsburgh!

Looking for a Little Free Library near your home? Check out this map.

Featured photo: Debra Smallwood and students at the United Way’s Be There awards, Photo courtesy of the United Way

Jill Greenwood

After spending 20 years working in journalism across the country, Jill returned to her native 'Burgh in 2005. When not parked in front of her laptop writing or searching for good stories, she's checking out cool happenings in her North Side neighborhood or shuttling her daughter to and from soccer fields.