We know Detroit, the Michigan metropolis, for the former glory of its automobile industry, its violent 1967 riots, Eminem, RoboCop and its abandoned pavilions, ruins of an American dream. It’s lesser known that in Detroit, there are physical and digital libraries in several city laundromats, offering the poorest populations the opportunity to read and inform themselves, to the drum of washing machines.
Libraries in street corners, in parks and subway stations. Why not in laundromats? This story didn’t start in Detroit, but in the district of Morrisania, one of the poorest of the Bronx, New York. Bibliotheques Sans Frontieres joined with Dream Yard and the Laundry Cares foundation to launch the summer program Wash and Learn, allowing inhabitants to draft their CV and apply to jobs online.
“In parks, nature can play against you. If it rains, there’s no one. If it’s nice out, it’s impossible to read your computer screen. Regarding train stations and street corners, they are less favorable for people to stay, who are usually in a rush. However, in laundromats, people have the time and are looking for something to do,” explains Allister Chang, Director of Libraries Without Borders in the United States.
Last summer, it was Detroit’s turn, known to be one of the poorest cities in the United States, to welcome Wash & Learn. The pilot project was the following: three laundromats were equipped with a KoomBook, a digital library allowing inhabitants to access a certain number of books and educational content for all ages, selected in partnership with the Detroit public library.
“The content of the KoomBook offers responses to specific questions asked by members of the community: How to fill out my tax forms? What is the TVA? How do I create an email? Download a CV? How do I sign up for health insurance? What activities can I do with my children, once at home, to help them succeed in school,” continues Allister.
All day, the same profiles take turns at the laundromat: unemployed adults and very young children.
“The neighborhood has a hard time making ends meet. The surrounding blocks are inhabited by families who have been fighting for years. In the building next door, many don’t have Internet or even a computer. For some, it’s even financially difficult to come to the laundromat. Nevertheless not preventing the children from going around. Many have never even stepped foot in a public library. Before they were getting bored around the neighborhood. Now, they read and use computers,” Justin Johanon explained last summer, leading the Fit and Fold laundromat.