United States

Our Actions

As the world’s largest economy, the United States is nevertheless marked by strong regional, social, and educational inequalities. More than 30 million adults in the country cannot read or write, and a third of the least educated Americans do not use the Internet. 

Since 2015, the U.S. affiliate of Libraries Without Borders runs education and information access programs for disadvantaged or marginalized communities in the United States. It has nine employees, a very active board of directors, and many volunteers who help to carry out its mission of meeting people where they are with the information that they need.

Transforming laundromats into libraries

In 2016, LWB US created the program Wash & Learn and transformed multiple laundromats around the country into libraries. This initiative allowed people living in underprivileged and low-income neighborhoods to access a number of books, portable computers, tablets, and digital resources—including online classes, e-books, and videos—while waiting for their laundry. Four years later, the program has continued to grow, and multiple cities have now taken part in the initiative, including Detroit, Baltimore, Oakland, and San Antonio. In Baltimore, the program focuses specifically on digital education, from access to online tools to the necessary skills to use them. The goal is to help residents become well-informed, engaged, and supported during the digital transformation in order to better understand the world around them. In San Antonio, virtual reality helmets give residents the opportunity to fight zombies, explore haunted houses, or travel around the world. In Oakland, English courses for refugees are organized at the laundromats. In partnership with the Oakland Public Library, the “Wash and Read” program organizes storytime for children. Legal resources and information on preventive healthcare will also be made available soon.

After Hurricane Maria, the resilience of Puerto Rico’s residents

In 2017, Hurricane Maria violently made landfall on the island of Puerto Rico, killing nearly 3,000 people and destroying thousands of homes, hospitals, and public buildings. LWB US traveled to the Caribbean island for an exploratory mission, aiming to evaluate the situation and the damages on the ground. Following this visit, and with the help of the island’s inhabitants, small businesses, and local organizations, we implemented an Ideas Box kit for two communities, Loiza and La Perla.

By equipping the residents with the necessary tools and resources to rebuild themselves after the storm, the Ideas Box quickly became a space where locals could borrow electric tools to repair their broken furniture or get help with administrative processes. Workshops were also offered regularly on various topics, including virtual reality, social entrepreneurship, the environment, and 3D printing. By providing access to information and essential services the Ideas Box strengthened both social ties among communities, as well as local resilience.

Legal Literary and the support of people in the juridical procedures

In 2017, LWB US launched the “Legal Literacy” program to support people in their legal undertakings, meeting people where they were in schools, community centers, or churches. Partnering with libraries and associations, we have assembled, simplified, and made available juridical resources that correspond to the different needs of different communities. This program was tested in Washington, D.C., Providence, RI, and other towns in the United States.

More About Our Projects


Wash and Learn Initiative (WALI)

Objective

To transform laundromats into libraries for digital literacy and lifelong learning


Start date

2015


Status

Ongoing


Surmounting Barriers to Learning

Laundromats provide an ideal space to engage with low-income families. Clients return weekly and wait an average of 90 minutes for their clothes to wash and dry. Laundromats are open almost 24/7, providing a space to learn even after the library has closed. To date, LWB has worked in partnership with  local organizations as well as federal, state, and local libraries to design, implement, and evaluate Wash & Learn programs across 7 different states: Minnesota, Michigan, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Washington DC, and Rhode Island. In each location, we install a curated media center, complete with books and computers, while training librarians and local organizations how to further activate the laundromat spaces with in-person programming that is fun and participatory. Together with the library, we adapt the resources at each laundromat to address the particular but varied needs of the families at each location, e.g. story-time events for children, legal resources for vulnerable tenants. We partner with the Coin Laundry Association, a national network of laundromat owners, to identify participating laundromats and to ensure that these small businesses take pride in this work and foster its growth.

Outputs and Outcomes

We track how laundromat learning spaces enable individuals to connect with local organizations, either by signing up for a library card, enrolling in an after-school education program, or making an appointment with a legal, medical, or financial provider. We monitor the number of everyday users who visit the laundromat to browse educational resources online. Programs typically engage 30 individuals a day.

The Legal Literacy Initiative

Objective

To provide crucial legal information to under-served adults and children.


Start date

June 2017


Status

Ongoing


Making Legal Information Accessible by Meeting People Where They Are

Legal providers often rely on the internet to reach their most vulnerable clients. By searching online, individuals can find reliable information about upcoming legal clinics as well as videos, PDFs, and self-help exams covering all areas of civil law. And yet, the communities who would most benefit from these resources often lack broadband internet connection at home or basic digital literacy skills. Together with libraries and legal service organizations in Rhode Island, Washington DC, and Maryland, LWB curates and delivers digital legal materials directly to communities, meeting people where they are and providing them with the digital skills to access the resources that answer their questions. Our programs take place in laundromats, street corners, churches, housing developments, senior centers, and flea markets while using new tools like Aprendi.org to provide relevant, user-friendly databases of information.  

Outputs and Outcomes

To date, we have served over 600 individuals, connecting families with attorneys, signing individuals up for library cards, and facilitating conversations on issues pertinent to this community. We track our success through two ways: 1) We monitor the number of people we engage at laundromats, housing developments, etc. and the number of new online users who access curated information. 2) We partner with legal service providers to track how many individuals connect with an attorney after accessing online resources for the first time.

The Ideas Box in Puerto Rico

Objective


Start date

March 2018


Status

Ongoing


Libraries Foster Resiliency in the Wake of Maria

Following the announcement of over 280 schools closures across the island in the wake of Hurricanes Maria and Irma, Libraries Without Borders amped up our efforts to provide avenues for informal learning, long-term capacity building, and sustainable recovery. Through our pop-up, mobile library, the Ideas Box, Libraries Without Borders has been transforming closed and abandoned public buildings and community centers in Loiza, Isabella, and San Juan into dynamic spaces of learning and resilience. Workshops have focused on issues ranging from community mapping, social enterprise,  and design thinking to marine health, 3D printing, and blockchain for social change.

Outputs and Outcomes

With more than 4 years of research and experience, we have seen how the Ideas Box can increase academic performance by 23% while creating safe spaces for innovation and community buildings. In Puerto Rico, the Ideas Box has provided more than 100 users with access to cutting-edge technology, science, and problem-solving techniques. Initial survey responses and focus groups reinforce the transformative nature of Ideas Box programs on abandoned spaces and community centers.

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