The Lisa Libraries
Hi, readers! Last week, I dressed in jeans, sneakers, and an old shirt to prepare for a busy afternoon volunteering at the Lisa Libraries in Kingston, New York, in the Hudson Valley. My clothing choice was a great decision, because I spent the next several hours on my hands and knees happily loading books onto the lowest shelves in our facility. I was pretty grimy by the time I left, but I felt very satisfied.
The Lisa Libraries has a special place in my heart. Many years ago, a publishing colleague and friend, Lisa Novak, died unexpectedly. The Lisa Libraries was created to honor her memory, and in particular, her love of children's books.
The idea behind the Lisa Libraries is to collect brand-new children's books in order to establish small libraries for children in underserved areas. To accomplish this, we request donations from publishers, editors, reviewers, authors, and illustrators, all of whom have been incredibly generous and eager to help over the years. From their donations, we then create libraries for many different types of facilities (for example, shelters, Head Start programs, and prison waiting areas where kids can visit their incarcerated parents). Quite simply, the Lisa Libraries puts new books into the hands of children who might not otherwise have the access to them.
The Lisa Libraries started off on a small scale. For quite some time, we were able to sort through our donations and store the books in a closet in the spare bedroom in my New York City apartment. As more and more people found out about our endeavor, our donations grew, and we moved the operation to warehouse space in Brooklyn. Eventually, the Lisa Libraries found a permanent home not too far from where I now live in the Hudson Valley.
My longtime colleague Elisa does an amazing job as the director of the Lisa Libraries. She coordinates the email list, the newsletter, and the website, and oversees the donations and the library requests. Since the Lisa Libraries relies on volunteers, Elisa coordinates a wonderful group of people who dedicate their time to creating children's libraries. Our volunteers include students from local high schools, senior citizens, and retired teachers and nurses. We are also fortunate to be part of a program in which adults facing mental or physical challenges can intern with the organization for a few weeks as a step in their recovery process.
A typical day at the Lisa Libraries involves unpacking boxes of donated books, scanning the books into our database, and then shelving the books by category. When a request for a library comes in, the volunteers carefully collect the requested books, scan each one out, and then pack the books to be shipped to the final destination.
An average donated library typically includes between 250-500 books, although that number can be higher or lower. To date, our largest donation consisted of 2,500 books that were distributed to children in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. We tailor our donations to the needs of the organization receiving the books. Under-funded after-school programs may have more academic requests, such as books about the solar system, books in Spanish, or biographies, while a shelter may ask for fiction or activity books. Each summer, we make donations to summer reading programs for underprivileged kids, making sure that every child gets to choose a new book to take home and keep for their own. The Lisa Libraries has recently started a partnership with local food banks, so that children whose families visit the food pantries can leave with new books of their own in addition to food for their kitchens. We think of this initiative as "Feed the body, feed the mind."
It's been over twenty-five years since a few friends got together to find the best way to honor the memory of a colleague. Since then, I've watched the Lisa Libraries grow from several boxes of books stored in a bedroom closet to a bustling warehouse staffed by dedicated volunteers. Here's to twenty-five more years of bringing books to eager young readers!
P.S. Since 1990, The Lisa Libraries has contributed over 400,000 books to nonprofit organizations across the country. If you'd like to learn more about the Lisa Libraries, check out the website at www.lisalibraries.org.