Dec 18, 2019

Leveraging the community to overcome inequalities

San Antonio WALI Launch
San Antonio WALI Launch

Approximately 32 million adults in the United States are illiterate. Additionally, 35% of lower-income households with school age children do not have access to a broadband Internet connection at home. When talking about the realities these communities face, we often throw out terms like “digital divide” and “homework gap.” Setting aside the jargon for a moment, these numbers indicate that for households with an annual income below $30,000, applying for a job, completing homework, and contacting friends or family is exponentially more difficult. Imagine going one day without the Internet. Now imagine going one day without being able to read. 

By providing access to information and transforming informal spaces into places of learning, Libraries Without Borders reaches precisely these communities. Through partnerships with libraries, nonprofits, and community members themselves, we narrow the digital divide and increase literacy rates across the United States. 

Since our last update, we have continued to expand the reach of our programs, forge new partnerships, and broaden the scope of the services we provide.


Updates from the Wash and Learn Initiative:

On October 18th, we brought the Wash & Learn Initiative (WALI) to San Antonio. Borne out of a partnership with Google Fiber, the San Antonio Public Library, and BiblioTech (the library of Bexar County), this program has transformed two laundromats into places where members of the community can access books, technology, and other wrap-around services. To learn more about this program, check out our website!

 Following an accident that killed a young boy and his mother upon leaving Family Laundry (our Oakland WALI site), the laundromat became a center for activism and healing. In November, Family Laundry dedicated the WALI reading room in honor of their memory. The laundromat also organized an all-day event that brought community members face-to-face with their elected representatives, and gave them the opportunity to demand a traffic light for this deadly intersection. You can learn more about this program here

On November 16th, LWB hosted its first ever "Digital Resource Fair" at Laundry City, one of our four Baltimore WALI sites. The event brought together nonprofits, community-based organizations, and laundromat patrons for a day of fun and learning that also gave various groups the opportunity to showcase their online resources. 


Engaging our Supporters

On November 7th, LWB hosted a book talk with scholar Stephanie Hom, the author of  Empire's Mobius Strip, which traces the roots of the present-day migrant crisis in Italy to the country's early imperial ambitions.

San Antonio WALI Launch
San Antonio WALI Launch
Book Talk with author Stephanie Hom
Book Talk with author Stephanie Hom
Digital Resource Fair in Baltimore
Digital Resource Fair in Baltimore
Digital Resource Fair in Baltimore
Digital Resource Fair in Baltimore
Sep 25, 2019

We Take It For Granted...

Many of us don’t think twice about going online to catch up with family and friends, check our bank balance, or send an email. However, for the 21 million Americans who do not have access to broadband internet, these activities cannot be taken for granted. Beyond binge-watching Netflix, a high-speed internet connection gives us access to information and the tools needed to carry out everyday activities. 

Just think about the student whose grades suffer because they can’t do their homework or download the study resources their teacher posted online. Or the new small business that needs a reliable internet connection to process payments and sell their products on the global marketplace. Or the elderly person living in a remote, rural area who depends on telehealth services to receive medical care because the nearest doctor is nearly 100 miles away. 

Of course, access to information alone cannot fix the inequalities borne out of the digital divide. That’s why Libraries Without Borders takes a community-driven approach to bridge the gap between the internet-haves and have-nots. By setting up pop-up libraries and learning spaces in public places—laundromats, community centers, playgrounds, mobile home parks—we create “connectivity oases” for people who would otherwise remain offline. 

Through our programs (which you can read more about them below), we equip people with the skills and technology they need to actually get online and access the information and tools relevant to their lives. Take for instance our Wash and Learn Initiative in Baltimore. Launched in June 2019, WALI Baltimore has transformed four laundromats in underserved parts of the city into community centers where patrons of all ages can use laptops and tablets, connect to the internet, or ask a librarian for help. Through this hyper-local approach, WALI Baltimore provides a more integrative, holistic approach to promoting digital literacy among the most disconnected residents in the city. It is a crucial step that lays the groundwork for building a more digitally inclusive city. 

None of these programs would exist without your generosity. As we enter into fall, we wanted to send our sincerest thanks for your continued support—along with an update about our programs.

We cannot thank you enough! 


The Wash and Learn Initiative: Expanding a National Movement 

At present, LWB is running the Wash and Learn Initiative (WALI) in laundromats in eight states across the country. Each WALI site features library programming and is equipped with iPads, computers, books, and arts and crafts materials. At every WALI site, both children and adults have the opportunity to learn new skills from experts in basic, digital, health, and legal literacy, among other topics.

On Septmber 9th, we launched three new WALI sites in Detroit, Michigan. On September 16th and 21st, we launched two new WALI sites in San Antonio, Texas. 

In the months to come, we’ll upgrade WALI sites across the country, making sure every laundromat is up-to-date with high-speed tech and new, exciting books! 

The Ideas Box in Puerto Rico: Engaging the Youth 

Following the success of last summer’s pilot program, LWB continues to provide educational and cultural programming with the Ideas Box.  

Through your donations, and with generous support from SONY, we have expanded our pilot in Loíza into a full-year program. Additionally, winners from last May’s successful make-a-thon, “Empréndete: Loíza”, have further developed their ideas by designing strategic business plans. We are gearing up to use these plans to transform their ideas into reality! In further exciting news about results from the make-a-thon, everyone from the winning team received a laptop. One young adult, about to start university as an agriculture and engineering major, was especially happy; he finally had a computer that he could bring to university! 

In further news, this summer, two communities in Loíza organized summer camps for youth and young adults. In El Ancón de Loíza, community leader, Moreno, organized workshops focused on sustainable agriculture, health literacy, entrepreneurship, culture and dance, design thinking, and marketing. Young adults that participated in the camp all received stipends for their hard work and commitment to the trainings. In Sector 23 y las Gardenias, community leader, Danaliz, organized two summer camps: one for kids aged five to eleven and the other for kids aged twelve to twenty-two. These camps focused on sports, environmental stewardship, healthy eating, and entrepreneurship. Participants also received stipends based on their attendance and commitment to the program. 

The Legal Literacy Initiative: Addressing New Needs in Washington, D.C. 

In partnership with legal aid providers, local libraries, and nonprofits, we have curated, contextualized, and simplified legal resources to meet the needs of the communities we serve. With oversight from our Legal Literacy Advisory Board, we will continue to provide these communities with a steady stream of relevant and reliable legal information.  

Recently, we were awarded a grant by Immigrant Justice Legal Services (IJLS) to pivot our focus to the Asian community in Washington, D.C. and its surrounding suburbs. While we still provide legal information, the needs of this community have largely centered around health literacy and access to books. Consequently, we have switched our focus and are now working on bringing library services to centers serving this community, such as the Chinatown Senior Center.

Increasing Rural Literacy Rates: Building on the Success of Wash and Learn  

Building upon the best practices gleaned from the Wash and Learn Initiative, we plan to launch a program for residents living in manufactured housing communities in suburban and rural areas across the country. The pilot will begin in Fridley, Minnesota, where we have partnered with a local library and Park Plaza Co-Op,  a resident-owned  manufactured housing cooperative. Through this pilot, we will set up iPads, laptops, arts and crafts materials, and a space where residents can participate in library programming inside the co-op’s storm shelter. By working with the library and other community-based organizations, this pilot will provide residents with opportunities to develop basic, digital, health and legal literacy skills.


Jun 27, 2019

The Arts and Culture as Engines for Recovery

Puerto Rico's Ideas Box!
Puerto Rico's Ideas Box!

Following Hurricanes Irma and Maria, Puerto Rico experienced monumental devastation to life, property, livelihood, and cultural heritage. Once immediate disaster response efforts ended, communities were forced to grapple with the harsh realities of long-term recovery. As concerns about access to food, water and shelter subsided, residents increasingly worried about the impact that limited public services, namely the closure of 283 schools, would have on their daily lives. 


Last summer, your generosity gave Libraries Without Borders the opportunity to bring the Ideas Box to the island. With this dynamic tool, we were able to run a pilot program in two communities, Loíza and La Perla.


Building upon the success of that pilot, LWB launched “Empréndete: Loíza” earlier this year. This series of community-building events aimed to encourage innovation, entrepreneurship, design thinking and the creative arts. On May 25th, we officially kicked off the series with a two-day make-a-thon in Loíza, the first event of its kind to take place in Puerto Rico! The weekend ended with a competition to design the best prototype for promoting positive social change in Loíza. The winning team, Proyecto 187, will use photography as a means to diffuse violence in their community. By capturing images of daily life in Loíza, teens will have the opportunity to share their perspectives on the world. We plan to work with the creative minds behind this project to get it off the ground in the fall! 


Given the success of our pilot program, we’re turning our efforts towards transforming the Ideas Box into a multipurpose community center in Loíza. In this space, community members will have consistent access to programming and technology centered around the arts, culture, entrepreneurship, and STEM. With your continued support, we’ll be able to ensure that this program becomes a fixture of the community in Loíza. 


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