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Volunteers spend summer turning run-down school libraries into a place where kids want to read

Posted at 9:12 AM, Aug 28, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-06 15:23:33-04

CLEVELAND — Volunteers from the National Council of Jewish Women/Cleveland (NCJW) are revealing the new library at Dike School of the Arts in Cleveland Wednesday.

A new school year means a new library for students in a building that badly needed it.

"The library was not in the best condition," said Assistant Principal Karen Taylor. "The books were old, the pages were ripped, the pages were coming out of the binders. It was just in bad condition."

But the Dike School of the Arts library is hardly the only one needing a little help.

"The shelves were a little bit frightening," said NCJW Building Bridges with Books Chair Debbie Joseph.

Joseph and NCJW Community Service Vice Chair Heather Schlang realized a lot of school libraries are lacking in the staff to maintain a library, the space to house it in, the books to stock it, or all three.

Since 2014, they and a small army of volunteers re-organize school libraries. They've done 12 so far. Big projects take up an entire summer and small projects can be done during a school year.

"We process the books, make sure what's in the computer system matches what's on the shelves so you can make it a true lending library and make it so children can take these books," said Schlang.

They recycle books when they can and build up libraries with donated and newly-purchased books, making sure students are excited about the what is on the shelves.

That makes it a lot easier for students to read what they want, making it much more likely they'll read in the first place.

"Our books were so outdated, the kids were losing interest in reading because, technically, there were no books here that they wanted to read," said Taylor.

With the new books students will seek out, it'll be a lot easier to get kids reading at their grade-level, helping them in every other subject.

"If you can't read and read on grade-level, it's really hard to comprehend any other subject," said Taylor.

The NCJW did a similar project just across town at Walton Elementary School, where Media Specialist Antoinette Barnhill is in charge of the library.

"So this opens the door to help broaden their reading skills, not just within the school but outside," said Barnhill, talking about the new library Building Bridges with Books brought to Wilton. "[The students] having the opportunity to come in and go through all the books and pick out the ones that they like gives me the opportunity to know them."

This story is part of A Better Land, an ongoing series that investigates Northeast Ohio's deep-seated systemic problems. Additionally, it puts a spotlight on the community heroes fighting for positive change in Cleveland and throughout the region. If you have an idea for A Better Land story, tell us here.