Heights Libraries and Noble barbers seek to boost literacy rates in young readers
The Cleveland Heights-University Heights Public Library System regularly engages in community outreach. Storytimes at preschools and daycares, delivery of materials to home-bound customers, book discussions and computer classes at senior living communities and the Cleveland Heights Community Center, and free book distribution at community events utilizing the Book Bike are just a few examples of Heights Libraries outreach activities.
Monica Wilson, youth services associate at the Noble Neighborhood branch, has found yet another way to reach customers outside of the library building, and encourage teens and kids to read: bringing library books for young readers to local barbershops.
“Every six weeks, I bring a variety of books to two of the barbershops on Noble Road for customers to read while they get their hair cut, or wait for a cut,” said Wilson.
Wilson found inspiration for the idea in an article she read about a nonprofit in Harlem, Barbershop Books, whose mission is to boost literacy for African-American boys ages 4–8 by creating kid-friendly reading spaces in barbershops.
She reached out to Patrick Freed, who has operated Freestyles Barbershop, 2853 Noble Road, for 16 years. Freed, whose shop is within walking distance of the library’s Noble Neighborhood branch, said he didn’t hesitate to partner with the library.
“I’m an educator, my license areas are in ELA [English Language Arts] and social studies, so reading is incredibly important to me,” said Freed, who teaches at Lake Erie Preparatory School, a K–8 charter school in Cleveland’s South Collinwood neighborhood. “The minute Monica mentioned it to me, I knew it was a good idea. It’s right up my alley.”
Freed said customers are enjoying the book collection: “They are very pleased with it. It gives them the opportunity to read something besides the magazines here, and the selection Monica brings is good—she makes sure we have the right books for our culture.”
“Most of what I bring is for youth—children and teens,” said Wilson. “But I also check out some adult books for the shop. Since they’re reading while waiting for a cut, I don’t bring novels or anything with dense text. I bring over things that can be skimmed or read piecemeal based on time and interest. I also try to bring over nonfiction that is helpful for guiding teens toward their future and succeeding in the present. For the younger children, I bring over board books, picture books, and first-readers featuring diverse characters.”
“Kids are really attracted to the books,” said Freed, adding that he often sees parents helping his young customers pick out books. Comic books are “a real draw,” noted Freed. “The little bitty kids are really drawn to the colors and the titles.”
Wilson also works with Antonio Stewart, who runs Premier Barber Lounge, 2187 Noble Road.
“What I like about having a library inside of my barbershop is that it gives children, adults, and even the barbers a chance to be entertained by something besides technology,” said Stewart. “And the children always come back looking forward to finishing the book they read when they were in the shop last.”
“I love working with Patrick and Antonio,” said Wilson. “They’re good partners for outreach because they’re community-minded and want to be an enriching influence in our community—to meet kids where they’re at—which is what I think the library does well, too.”
Barbershops and libraries also offer what people in the public library world call a “third place”—a place besides home and work (or school for kids) where they can go to feel welcome, connect with others, and enrich their lives.
“It’s my hope that having a tiny rotating library in the barbershops is an extension of the ‘third place’ phenomenon,” said Wilson. “Sharing our books so people have a chance to read something outside of the context of work or school helps to present reading as a choice and not a chore.”
Sheryl Banks is the communications manager for the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Public Library System.