Wash & Learn

Wash & Learn’s pop-up library spins suds and stories

Photos by Stephanie Hacke.

Laundry time was a total drag for Elijah and Matthew Ortiz.

While mom, Yadi Martinez, washed clothes, the 6- and 8-year-old brothers sat in the apartment building laundry room, anxious to get it over with and find something fun to do.

But a new pop-up library right across the street has saved the day. Sudsy’s Laundromat in South Park Township is where the Libraries Without Borders’ Wash & Learn program launched its first Pittsburgh pilot series, giving kids a chance to be productive while mom does the laundry for free.

The program, geared for kids up to age 8, operates at Sudsy’s on Mondays through August 15. The library story time runs from 10 to 10:45 a.m. From 1:30 to 3 p.m., WQED program manager Shelly Schmidt reads books and engages kids with games like Match the PBS Characters and Sock Basketball.

“The goal of this really is to avoid the summer slump,” Schmidt says. “And help parents realize that learning can happen in everyday spaces.”

Yadi now brings Elijah and Matthew, plus her three grandchildren, to the program at Sudsy’s.

“They have fun,” she says. “It keeps them busy. And who doesn’t like free laundry?”

Wash & Learn
At Wash & Learn, kids can participate in fun activities while their parents do the laundry.

Libraries Without Borders, a national nonprofit, started in 2007, with the mission to promote access to information in low-income communities and reach people where they are, says Adam Echelman, director of programs.

In 2015, the organization began setting pop-up libraries across New York City – from public parks to bus stations. They found one on a particular street corner to be the most popular. Why? Because it was right in front of a laundromat.

“At laundromats, you have a captive audience for at least 90 minutes,” Echelman says. “And people return weekly because they have to wash their clothes.”

From there, the Wash & Learn program was born. Libraries Without Borders set up programs in urban and rural settings, including New York City, Detroit and Washington DC.

Allegheny County provided the opportunity to enter a suburban market.

Libraries Without Borders partnered with the Coin Laundry Association to help identify laundromats that would be best suited for the programs.

Locally, the program is a collaboration between Libraries Without Borders, the Allegheny County Library Association, South Park Township Library, WQED and Sudsy’s Laundromat. The Grable Foundation provided funding for the six-week program.

But this is just the start. Organizers are working to create a set of best practices that can be mirrored in other suburban libraries, says Carrie Lane, youth services coordinator for the Allegheny County Library Association.

Wash & Learn
This cozy nook gives kids a chance to settle in with a book or access a laptop computer.

The program provides four laptop computers for the laundromat that are geared for kid learning. Two are locked on the South Park Township Library page where parents can browse the collection and reserve books. The other two computers are locked on the PBS homepage so kids can explore cool learning opportunities.

South Park Township Library provided 109 books, ranging from kid favorites to young adult and including books for grownups, says Amanda DeKnight, library director. Those books are free for the taking. Or, visitors can sit in the little reading nook while they’re waiting for their laundry.