BookDepot11
Angela Gervasi / Billy Penn

Neighborhoods

Photos: Lancaster Avenue businesses launch a community book depot

Barber shops, laundromats and other storefronts are becoming makeshift libraries.

BookDepot11
Angela Gervasi / Billy Penn

Businesses on Lancaster Avenue are taking a direct role in increasing Philadelphia’s literacy rate.

On Thursday, Leroy’s Barber Shop hosted a launch for 30 new community book depots along the avenue. Each business— from hair salons to laundromats— will now house a small area where anyone can grab a book.

The depots work a little like a library— except for the fact that readers can keep whatever book they might pluck from the small, wooden crates. It’s a modified version of the popular Little Free Library stands.

For Leroy Robinson  Jr., owner of the barbershop near 41st and Lancaster, creating a space for free books is a no-brainer.

“If I could do anything to better the community, to help the young, young kids, get a better insight on what life should be, as opposed to what they see, in terms of the hardships and the crime and whatnot, I’m willing, I’m willing, I’m willing,” Robinson said.

A cluster of West Philadelphia community groups, including Action for Early Learning, and West Philadelphia Promise Neighborhood, made the initiative possible.

“We literally went boots on the ground. Store by store,” said Rachel Honore of Action for Early Learning, a local organization led by Drexel and People’s Emergency Center.

AFEL plans to replenish the books each month, with donations from organizations like Philly Reads and Read by 4th.

Meejain Youk plans to gather donated books at Jefferson Hospital, where she works. For Youk, who’s lived in the neighborhood for 57 years, the need for for literacy access is great.

“A lot of these children only go a six-block radius. They go to school, and outside to play,” Youk said. “The parents work all the time so basically they don’t even have an opportunity to take their children out to the playground, to, like, theme parks, you know, ‘cause times are so hard.”

“So if a child can escape through reading, that’s the most important thing,” she added.

Philly’s literacy rates have dipped below the national average before. An estimated 37 percent of individuals in the city qualify as low-literate, says the Center for Literacy. And if a parent has low literacy skills, it’s more likely the child will exhibit similar results.

“Learn to read, so you can read to learn the rest of your life,” said Dwayne Walker, a parent navigator at AFEL.

Here are some scenes of the launch:

BookDepot1
Angela Gervasi / Billy Penn
Cass Green, manager manager of community outreach and partnerships at the Philadelphia Emergency Center, speaks with a biker about the initiative.

Cass Green, manager of community outreach and partnerships at the People's Emergency Center

Angela Gervasi / Billy Penn
BookDepot2
Angela Gervasi / Billy Penn
Action for Early Learning, led by both Drexel and local community members, works to create greater access to education in West Philly.
Angela Gervasi / Billy Penn
Rachel Honore of the AFEL holds a list of participating businesses along Lancaster Ave.
Angela Gervasi / Billy Penn
Bri Kurmue of AFEL sorts through children's books.

Bri Kurmue of AFEL

Angela Gervasi / Billy Penn
BookDepot6
Angela Gervasi / Billy Penn
BookDepot11
Angela Gervasi / Billy Penn
A new crate of donated books sits in Leroy's Barber Shop near 41st and Lancaster Ave.
Angela Gervasi / Billy Penn
BookDepot5
Angela Gervasi / Billy Penn
Sadidi Furniture, a participating local business near 41st and Lancaster, displays a crate of books in the front window.

Sadidi Furniture, a participating local business near 41st and Lancaster, displays a crate of books in the front window.

Angela Gervasi / Billy Penn
Donated books sit in the back of the New Identity Barbershop in West Philly.

Donated books sit in the back of the New Identity Barbershop in West Philly.

Angela Gervasi / Billy Penn
BookDepot7
Angela Gervasi / Billy Penn