Warren group works to fight ‘book desert’ phenomenon

Warren has gone from 13 elementary schools to just four K-8 schools, and neighborhoods lost their school libraries

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WARREN, Ohio (WKBN) – They call themselves the Bookworms of Warren.

“We kind of brainstormed to come up with creative ways to get people to start writing,” said Mikenna McClurg with Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership.

McClurg and Karin Kilpatrick, the family coordinator at Warren City Schools, have started the Bookworms of Warren project to combine gardening with literacy.

“With the community gardens [often] using the old sites of Warren elementary schools, it’s perfect access for our neighborhood kids and families,” Kilpatrick said.

In the last 20 years, Warren has gone from 13 elementary schools to just four K-8 schools, and neighborhoods lost their school libraries.

“Any time you close a library, it’s a detriment to the reading of the child,” said Jim Wilkins, director of Warren-Trumbull County Public Library.

Much of Warren is at-risk of becoming a “book desert,” a term coined for low-income neighborhoods where kids do not have access to bookstores, libraries or community schools.

A study from Susan Neuman, a literacy researcher at New York University, found that high-poverty neighborhoods in Detroit, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. had very few children’s books available and families often had none at home.

Kilpatrick says the effects of not reading at a young age can be damaging.

“Kids are coming in to us and they’re not ready for kindergarten,” she said.

The Bookworms project this summer will coalesce in a reading session and literacy event at the Warren Farmer’s Market on August 2.

Next year, the bookworms want to raise money to put up at least ten Little Free Libraries around town, part of a worldwide project of 40,000 microlibraries, and they would like to see most of them in Warren’s community gardens.

In the meantime, Trumbull County is served by its Bookmobile, which has been driving through communities for over 75 years. The truck makes about 70 stops throughout the county every month.

“It’s one of the gems of our county,” Wilkins said.

While Warren does have the main branch of the Warren-Trumbull County Public Library on Mahoning Avenue, poor families are often not going to the library at all. Neuman found that only 8 percent of families in “book desert” neighborhoods are using library resources, often because they are worried about late fees.

Or because they are intimidated.

“Sometimes they don’t feel welcome in a library,” Kilpatrick said. “They may avoid it.”

Wilkins says to have no fear because the library staff is very friendly. The library also has a “Take 2” program for kids who have late fees, either on their own or charged because their parents never returned items.

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