Steward Spotlight: Youth Potential South Africa

By Megan Hanson

“There are not many books in this vast rural area of South Africa and no bookshops at all. The average literacy level is very low. The majority of people living here have not completed their school education. The area has one of the largest economic inequalities in the world. This is one of the reasons why we thought a Little Free Library book exchange could help build community, cohesion, and give inspiration for the love of reading.” – Ray Schone

In 2015, Ray Schone and Alexis Salaman co-founded the nonprofit Youth Potential South Africa (YOUPSA). Increasing literacy rates is one of the main focuses of YOUPSA’s programs for disadvantaged kids in rural South Africa. Ray, a self-proclaimed bookworm, first discovered Little Free Library book boxes many years ago.

“I’ve been following the movement and I’ve always been inspired about the impact little libraries are having in their respective neighborhoods worldwide. I’ve always wanted to start up one myself,” says Ray.

Little Free Library #94387 (find it on Little Free Library’s world map!) is only the fifth registered little library in the country, and the only one in the large rural area surrounding Patensie, South Africa.

“Since we opened this new Little Free Library … the response has been tremendous. People just love this innovative concept and feel very drawn towards it. Many people have contacted us wanting to donate books. We have had inquiries from individuals far away who want to come and visit,” says Ray.

We asked Ray to share his experiences stewarding a Little Free Library box in an area where it’s a new concept and books are scarce.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve experienced so far?

“A big challenge for us has been the poor quality of books donated. The majority of South Africans lack familiarity with books and reading. Many times when people make book donations to our Little Free Library we receive boxes of old, dirty, and broken books that are completely unsuitable because they would not excite anyone to read. Part of the work of our little library is to help people understand the value of books.”

What has surprised you the most about being a Little Free Library steward?

“We’ve been surprised by the absolute delight reflected by many about this uplifting new project in the area. Most people feel this is a very novel idea and they like the concept.”

Is there a special moment or story you’d like to share?

“Our favorite moment was on opening day when a mother and her two children were immediately drawn to the Little Free Library. They browsed through it and couldn’t believe that these beautiful books for young and old were free to everyone to take. The young boy even found his favorite story character! Before leaving the boy and his sister came to thank us personally.”

Do you have any advice for others who are considering starting a Little Free Library?

“One piece of advice would be to do a lot of publicity about it to attract people and help them understand the concept. This might just apply to countries or areas that do not have a vibrant book culture.

“To help prevent vandalism and theft, try to think outside the box about the location for the Little Free Library. It does not always have to be in your front yard. There are many other public places. We for example used the garden of a country restaurant as a safe location and this works very well. We have received a lot of feedback from people around the country that they are inspired to start a Little Free Library in their own area now.”

Anyone can start a Little Free Library for their community, including you! Learn how to start a little library today.

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