Things have changed a lot since Nancy Wulkan first put up two Little Free Library book boxes in her Chicago, Illinois, neighborhood in 2018. After seeing the big impact those little libraries had, she started the Neighbor to Neighbor Literacy Project (N2N), a nonprofit working to advance equity in book access across Chicago.

N2N just finished an impressive four-day library-build event called the Chicago Block Box project, bringing together sponsors and volunteers to build 20 sets of little library/mini-pantry boxes! With the completion of this project, N2N has now installed 57 little libraries throughout the city, with more on the way. 

To bring the project to life, N2N partnered with Molina Healthcare and My Block, My Hood, My City (M3), a local social impact organization. Molina provided the funding to purchase 20 Little Free Library Kits and 20 Mini Shed libraries, plus they offered support during the build event. M3 organized volunteers to help build and paint the little libraries, and identified 12 of the 20 locations where they would be installed. N2N handled the rest, from organizing additional volunteers, to building posts, to installing the 40 boxes at the 20 neighborhood locations!

The event took place outdoors at a community garden. Over four days, four groups of volunteers (one per day) handled the tasks of assembling, priming, painting, and installing the 20 library/pantry sets. Little Free Library’s Executive Director Greig Metzger visited Chicago and took part one day, assisting the group tasked with assembling the kits.

The libraries were installed in front of homes, community gardens, churches, and a child care center throughout the city. And most importantly: volunteer stewards were identified for each library! This step is crucial to the long-term success of each book-sharing box. Block Clubs, which are groups of local residents who provide community engagement activities for their neighborhoods, will act as the stewards for many of the library locations.

Each location not only received a built Little Free Library, but also a Mini Shed library. Stock the Mini Shed with non-perishable goods like toilet paper and canned food and it becomes a mini-pantry! Or fill it with books and it’s an addition to the existing little library. Neighborhoods can adapt the setup to meet their needs over time.

“The Chicago Block Box Project creates new, convenient, unrestricted access points for free books, food pantry items, and PPE right where people live in twenty underserved neighborhoods on Chicago’s South and West sides,” says Nancy.

“The pairs of boxes at each location will help families on these blocks overcome access hurdles they may face like limited budgets and closed school libraries, challenges to good health and literacy development that previously existed and have only been exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic. By establishing these access points, fostering neighborhood sharing networks, and encouraging ongoing public support through food and book donations, we are reinvesting in our neighborhoods and building a sense of community and hope across every Zip code in Chicago.”

Inspired by this awesome project? You can host a library-build event in your town, whether you want to build a few or a few dozen! Or join the Little Free Library fun by sharing books in little libraries in your area, find one near you on the Little Free Library world map.

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