Libraries Join National Initiative To Transform Public Housing into Book-Rich Environments

The Book-Rich Environment Initiative will serve children living in HUD-assisted housing—and encourage families to use local libraries. The U.S. DOE and the National Book Foundation are among the new project's partners.

Students interact with, from left, Julián Castro, John B. King, Jr., and Broderick Johnson at the Washington DC Southwest Public Library during the announcement of the Book-Rich Environment Initiative.

The Book-Rich Environment Initiative, designed to boost literacy and improve educational outcomes for public housing residents, has been launched. The announcement was made by Julián Castro, secretary, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD); John B. King, Jr., secretary, U.S. Department of Education; and Broderick Johnson, chair of My Brother’s Keeper Task Force and assistant to the President, on January 5 at the Washington, DC Southwest Public Library.

The primary goal of the initiative is to bring free, diverse, high-quality books and other literacy tools to families living in HUD-assisted housing, home to nearly four million children.

The work will be done in partnership with public library branches, which will distribute the books. Each library will receive a set of books from the National Book Foundation, which will be donated by publishers. Penguin Random House is contributing 200,000 books; Hachette Book Group and Macmillan Publishers are also making large donations. The number of books in each set will depend both on the needs of the housing community being served, as well as the capacity of that particular local library to process the books.

Aside from the National Book Foundation and libraries, other nonprofit partners in the initiative include the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading and the Urban Libraries Council.

“The National Book Foundation’s mission includes enhancing the cultural value of great writing in America, and is committed to making sure all people, especially young people who are building their identity as readers, have access to great books,” said Lisa Lucas, National Book Foundation executive director, in a statement. “By collaborating with these key national partners, we are able to build the Foundation’s reach and further our mission of making sure that books matter, and that they matter everywhere.”

The initiative will launch in 35 communities across the country starting in February. Up to three local community events will be held at local libraries. The first will be in the spring, centered on introducing families to their library; a second follows about two months later, with a focus on summer learning; and the third takes place in the fall to gear up for the school year. At the events, library staff will conduct tours and encourage attendees to get library cards.

The distribution process will look different in different communities, explains Sawyer Hackett, HUD spokesperson. In some communities, the books will  be given out at the library events. In others, they will be delivered to housing developments and set up in library rooms. In still others, you will find a combination of both. “We want to leave it flexible to [meet] community needs and capacity,” says Hackett.

The Book-Rich Environment Initiative began after recommendations by President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Task Force, established to address the persistent opportunity gap faced by boys and young men of color.

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