Starkville women bring ‘Library Love’ to low-income neighborhood

Published 10:00 am Sunday, August 5, 2018

STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) — After more than a year of volunteering at a low-income housing complex, women from Starkville’s First United Methodist Church realized residents lacked something simple: Access to books.

Now, hundreds of tenants living in the Brookville Garden Apartments can walk down the driveway to their own one-room library.

It all started in May 2017 when members of a women’s group at the church began volunteering in the Brookville Gardens laundry facility. Every Tuesday, the women visit and offer to pay for up to two loads of laundry per person — which can cost more than $5 per load to wash and dry.

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Those laundry visits — called “Laundry Love” — allowed members of the women’s group to visit with apartment residents, hear their stories and learn their struggles.

“After talking with them for a year, we became more sensitive to what their lives are like when you don’t have transportation,” said Cindy Melby, one of the volunteers. “Through that we realized they can’t jump in their car and run to the library. … We thought, ‘This is something we can do.’”

The library

Work on the library started about two months ago. Melby said the apartment complex’s manager allowed the church group to transform the waiting room, just outside the laundry facility, into a reading room.

“They suggested the entry because that’s where all the traffic is,” Melby said.

It cost her group nothing to set up the space. The room’s shelves and books were donated by church members, private individuals, Mississippi State sororities and the United Way of North Central Mississippi.

“United Way got involved because they heard we were planning this, and they really donated a lot of books to us,” Melby said.

Brookville Gardens now houses hundreds of books. Some fill the library’s bookcases, while others sit in a back room ready to replace emptied shelves as necessary. In fact, Melby said, her group is looking to place another set of shelves in the reading room, allowing them to move more books up front.

Apartment resident Shanice Davis has three young children. Davis said they all love to read, and she’s happier knowing they have easy access to books.

“During the summertime, most kids need something positive to do,” Davis said. “Most little kids like to read. You just have to put it out there for them. … It’s something positive to do besides getting into trouble.”

Davis, with help from the Methodist Women’s group, returned to school recently at Starkville’s J.L. King Center to finish earning her high school diploma. The women’s group asked the now high school graduate to manage the library until she starts classes at East Mississippi Community College in August.

Until then, she spends her weekday mornings working toward a WorkKeys certification — a career readiness certificate — and her afternoons tending to the apartment’s library, organizing books and monitoring “check-ins and check-outs.”

Melby said the library does have an informal check-out system.

“We just tell them, ‘Don’t pick another book out until you’ve turned those back in,’” she said.

But that rule isn’t hard and fast.

“If (some books) leave the shelves and they don’t come back, it’s OK,” Melby said. “They’re in their home instead of a box.”

The Methodist women’s group held an opening celebration for the library Wednesday, complete with donuts, pizza, punch and a story time. Melby said more than 25 children showed up for the festivities.

A community focus

Since Wednesday, the library has garnered “a lot of attention,” said apartment manager Sherrina Walker.

She said around two dozen children checked out books on opening day. Some kids, she added, visit the library multiple times a day for new reading material.

“It’s needed,” Walker said. “Reading is a subject that is taken for granted. If you can’t read, you can’t comprehend, and you’re not going to understand anything in life.”

Walker said she’s discovered new readers since last week, and children often hang out in the library while their parents do laundry next door.

But a project like the library has an even broader appeal than giving children something to do while their parents do laundry, Starkville Police Chief Frank Nichols said.

“I think any time you can invest in a low income area, there’s going to be a positive outcome,” Nichols said.

Nichols said Brookville Garden Apartments and surrounding properties are considered a high crime area — though Nichols said residents are often not the problem — and seemingly small projects like the new one-room library help residents reclaim their neighborhoods.

“Our community and the church are doing that,” Nichols said. “If everybody rallied around their whole entire community, I think (Starkville) would be a better place. Instead of just focusing on the area you live in, when you focus on the entire community, great things happen.”

Melby notes the library isn’t just for children. She said it offers appropriate reading materials for children, teens and adults. All books have a “Laundry Love Ladies” stamp of approval on the inside of their covers.

And in keeping with the name of their laundry program, the women’s group named the new project “Library Love.”

“It’s a love building,” Melby said.