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Pilsen, Little Village, Back of the Yards

Little Library Debuts In Little Village, Offering Free Books In English And Spanish

The free community library outside La Villita Community Church was organized by church members and built, decorated and installed by youth groups.

Little Village youth pick books from the little library at La Villita Community Church on July 11, 2021.
Maia McDonald/Block Club Chicago
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LITTLE VILLAGE — A little free library is up and running in Little Village, part of a community effort to beautify the neighborhood while increasing literacy options for kids.

The small, green library outside La Villita Community Church, 2300 S. Millard Ave., was conceived by church members and assembled, painted and installed by members of youth organizations. They unveiled it at a community party Sunday, offering free books, tacos, music and games for kids.

It’s the first of several little libraries organizers plan to set up throughout the neighborhood, said Yesenia Juarez, a church member who helped spearhead the project.

Credit: Maia McDonald/Block Club Chicago
Participants of the G.E.M.S. program work with Noah Pickens to paint the little library on July 6, 2021.

“These are for the people of our neighborhood because we deserve nice things,” Juarez said. “So we really think that it’ll just empower our children to be able to walk by and see this beautiful little book house and feel free to grab one and leave one for their neighbor, as well.”

Several of La Villita Community church’s adult members came up with the idea to add little libraries to the area, Juarez said. One church member built one outside her home and it generated such a positive reception that Juarez, Noah Pickens and others began organizing the neighborhood project.

Little Free Library is a nonprofit that encourages people to build outdoor mini libraries where neighbors can borrow and leave books.

“We’re all involved with young people, and we just felt like it was something we should have, something the neighborhood should have all over,” Pickens said. “We knew there were a few around in places, and they sort of bring out a lot of positive elements on that block, so we figured we needed to do what we could to bring in as many as possible.”

Credit: Maia McDonald/Block Club Chicago
Community members peruse a selection of free books at the little library grand opening taco party in Little Village on July 11, 2021.

Young members of the New Life Center’s G.E.M.S. program and Chicago Youth Boxing Club put the library together. Jazmine Torres, director of the G.E.M.S program, said it means a lot to the girls to see their work so visible and praised in the community.

“We thought this was a nice opportunity for them to use their voices, be part of a community project, serve, come together, you know, unite and be a part of something that’s already developing and being present in their community so maybe they can launch one at their house or other places in the community,” Torres said. 

Empowering children through literacy is one of the main goals for the little libraries project.

Credit: Maia McDonald/Block Club Chicago
Yesenia Juarez reads to some youth at the Little Village Little Library Grand Opening taco party on July 11, 2021.

Torres hopes nurturing a love of reading in Little Village youth can impact other avenues of life in the West Side community. With many Little Village residents living in poverty and others struggling with limited educational options, Juarez thinks the little libraries offer an alternative.

“I think having these books stations available and showing children, while they’re little, the books are a good thing, books are another world, books are knowledge, that you can really show them how great it is, so as they get older, reading is not going to be such a chore,” Juarez said.

Juarez said two more little libraries still need to be painted and installed, and more are planned. They will be placed in high-traffic areas to make them accessible to as many community members as possible. English- and Spanish-language books will be available to meet the needs of the multilingual community.

Books can be donated directly to the little library itself or La Villita Community Church.

Credit: Maia McDonald/Block Club Chicago
Community members enjoy a taco party celebration of a new little library in Little Village on July 11, 2021.

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