By Liz Nolan, Contributing Writer
NORTHBOROUGH – Kristen Wixted and Heather Kelly are passionate about all kids having access to books.
Knowing the disparity of book access for so many families, they have formed a non-profit, Little Book Locker.
Wixted is a Northborough Select Board member and children’s book author. Kelly is also a children’s book author.
Similar to the concept of Little Free Libraries, Little Book Locker offers free, new and gently used books. Unlike the libraries, though, Little Book Lockers are specifically placed in areas of vulnerability, containing books specifically geared to children in those areas.
Each site is monitored so books can be replenished as needed.
Pandemic highlights need
Wixted and Kelly feel the gap between those “who have and who have not” increased during the pandemic.
“A lot of people are struggling financially and have access for help with other things, but books for their kids are a low priority,” Wixted said.
As their non-profit has expanded, finding locations to set up the book lockers has been a challenge.
“We see a need and we want to fill it, and we have the resources to do it,” said Kelly. “It’s a matter of getting the word out and raising awareness. Our purpose is to get books into the hands of vulnerable kids.”
It costs about $100 for the locker itself. But the bigger expense is the cost of the actual books, with picture books and graphic novels being the most expensive.
Organizers focus on diversity in book selection
Both authors are a part of The Writer’s Loft, a group of local writers and illustrators who support one another and independent booksellers.
Kelly said that half of Little Book Locker books are donated. The other half is purchased either from independent bookstores or from First Book, another non-profit which provides lower-cost children’s books. A variety of books are chosen for each locker.
Kelly and Wixted try to offer books with specific subject matter and a diverse representation of characters, such as LGBTQ characters or characters of color.
They also search for authors and illustrators who are as diverse as the readers of the books may be.
Books that are published in different languages that can be geared to bilingual communities are important to include in the lockers.
Organizers seek new Book Locker sites
The majority of the book lockers will be located within Massachusetts.
Locations to date include a Revere daycare, a Dorchester medical clinic, a family practice clinic in Gardner and the Merrimack Valley YMCA in Lawrence. Main Street Pastries and More in Northborough hosts a book locker for families participating in the Hope Bread program, a program that offers bread to families in need.
Over 2,000 books have been donated since the first book locker was set up in December 2020. The support of the communities where the lockers are placed has made that possible, Kelly and Wixted note.
Kelly and Wixted have partnered with Raising a Reader-MA, which has been an important resource to connect with site contacts.
“It’s a balance of patience and organization,” said Wixted. “I have boxes of books waiting to go to kids, but need a place to put them.”