Can you imagine a world without books? Books help inspire and answer questions. Books motivate, entertain, educate, and encourage exploration and imagination. Sadly, living in a house without books is a reality for millions of children in the United States. Not having access to books is one of the main factors of educational disadvantage for children. However, studies have shown that increasing access to books and placing more books in or near homes can help improve children’s learning opportunities and level the playing field.
EveryDay Learners of United Way of Utah County is an initiative focused on promoting early reading and increasing access to books for children and their families in Utah County. EveryDay Learners and Women United, United Way’s women’s philanthropic group, recently partnered with Nu Skin of Provo to make small lending libraries available to the community for free. Lending libraries are self-contained closed shelves where new or lightly used books are placed. Mini bookcases allow children to take and keep a free book on the shelf. Libraries are usually located outside residential houses or local schools and businesses.
Knowing that these libraries would be no small task, EveryDay Learners Director, Stephanie Anderson, enlisted the help of community members and organizations to design, build and paint the libraries. One of those community members was Jim Bethel, who spent many hours designing and building the libraries.
Bethel has always loved building things. When he had young children at home, he built toys and dollhouses in his own workshop and continued this tradition with his grandchildren. So, when approached about building small lending libraries that would be set up throughout the community, he was elated.
“The idea of having lending libraries in the community so that children could access the books was a no-brainer,” he said. “Working on this project was really a good cause. “
For a few weeks he spent every day working in libraries. He created a process that helped streamline library building, and he even learned a few new skills along the way.
“You almost have to be a builder to really understand all the little steps that go into making something,” Bethel said. “It’s gratifying to finally see the final product. I didn’t want to stop. I wanted to build more. Knowing what the libraries would be used for was also part of the joy of this project.
Reading has been a big part of Bethel’s family life. Bethel and his wife read to their children, and now their children read to their children. Reading has been woven into the fabric of their home. Bethel himself is also an avid reader.
“When I find an author that I love, I read all the books he has written and devour him,” he said. “There’s something so special about holding a book in your hand, marking pages and being excited to come back to it over and over again. Then it’s sad when it’s over. It’s almost like a void, so you have to find a new book to fill the blank space.
Bethel expressed her gratitude to EveryDay Learners director, Stephanie Anderson, as well as Provo’s Nu Skin and Women United for championing this project.
“I am so happy to have been part of this,” he said. “We need to get more books out into the community. There is so much joy in reading a book or having a book read to you. We cannot deny that we have given this joy to the next generation.
The scope of the project was vast: libraries were built, painted and set up in the communities. The final piece will collect books to fill the libraries.
“Read Early, Read Often lending libraries will be installed in various neighborhoods and outside of county schools,” Bethel said. “However, we need the community’s help to fill libraries with new and slightly used children’s books.”
If you would like to donate, visit United Way of Utah County – Just Serve to find out how you can sponsor a book drive in your neighborhood. You can also drop off hardback books, picture books, early readers, and early chapters at the Orem Town Office, 56 N. State St. in Orem.