This summer, Riis Settlement partnered with the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) for two book giveaway events as part of the national Book-Rich Environment Initiative. The initiative, which was launched by the National Book Foundation, the U.S. Departments of Housing and Urban Development and Education, the Urban Libraries Council, and the Campaign for Grade Level Reading, seeks to eliminate “book deserts” across the nation by supplying books to public housing residents and increasing their access to high-quality literacy tools.
Riis held one event in Queensbridge Houses and the other at the Ravenswood Houses, and both were a huge success. Hundreds of community members came out to peruse and select up to eight books from a wide range of offerings that catered to toddlers all the way up to young adults. For our youngest readers there were colorful board and pop-up books, and for the older readers popular reads such as “Maniac Magee” and the “Twilight Series”. Representatives from the Queens Public Library were on hand to help people register for a library card, and children enjoyed healthy snacks, face painting, and arts and crafts activities at both events.
The giveaway events happened not only in Queensbridge and Ravenswood but also in public housing communities all across the country. Thirty-six public housing authorities participated in the initiative and over 270,000 books—generously donated by Penguin Random House, Hachette Book Group, and Macmillan Publishers—were distributed at community centers like ours. Within NYCHA housing properties alone, 50,000 books were distributed.
The benefits of reading—especially early childhood reading—have been well documented. The earlier children are exposed to books and reading, the greater their chances for socioeconomic success later in life. However, there is a vast disparity in access to books between low-income communities and middle- and upper-income communities. The term “book desert” has come to identify these low-income communities where brick and mortar book stores are few and far between, libraries are typically underresourced, and many families do not have sufficient access to the internet to make up the print gap. This initiative is a wonderful first step in helping to overcome that inequity, and we are thrilled to have been able to participate and help the youth in our community build their libraries!