Remember last summer when JetBlue got a lot of press for installing book vending machines in Washington DC’s poorest neighborhoods?
They’ve just installed more book vending machines in a reading desert, this time in Detroit.
From the press release:
JetBlue’s award-winning Soar with Reading program launched today with the addition of Detroit to its innovative free book vending machine program. In order to help halt students’ “summer slide” – the knowledge base lost during the summer months – JetBlue installed five vending machines in neighborhoods across Detroit. Following its successful pilot vending machine program last summer, JetBlue will also return one machine to the Anacostia area of Washington, D.C. to continue to encourage children’s imaginations to take flight through reading.
The custom-designed book vending machines by Innovative Vending Solutions are stocked with books for children ages 0-14. In partnership with Random House Children’s Books and its Magic Tree House® series by Mary Pope Osborne, JetBlue will donate 120,000 free books to children living in Detroit, Washington, D.C. and other book deserts.
My problem with this program is that it’s not getting the biggest bang for its buck.
Yes, the book vending machines are going into book deserts and helping the community, but there are better options. Rather than spend $10,000 or more on each book vending machine, the money would be better spent building and deploying little free libraries.
These are breadbox sized structures which cost between $300 and $1,000 depending on the size and construction. They are sometimes either purpose-built, or built into former newspaper stands, phone books, or even refrigerators, and contain anywhere from a dozen to a couple score of books.
Or, they could take inspiration from another US city.
Indianapolis has taken a step in this direction, although they too went the expensive and showy route rather than cost-effectively serving their community. Last year Teleread reported on this program:
The Public Collection was a two-year program intended to support literacy and art appreciation in the Indianapolis Community through making books freely available to the public at eight art installations all around the downtown area. I also learned they were having a grand opening ceremony the next day on Monument Circle, so I made plans to attend.
The grand opening ceremony was held at the site of yet another art installation, called “Monument”—a huge assembly of bright green Greek-style columns with their own rotating bookshelves built in, and a Mark Twain quote overhead. There were a series of speakers, including the project’s coordinators, architects, and even Mayor Ballard. They explained that the project had been inspired by another art project that brought ten Little Free Library art installations to New York City. They wanted to do something similar, to demonstrate that art was for everyone while at the same time doing something about the imbalance in terms of the availability of books to the community.
That project distributed excess books for free, so even though a lot of money was wasted on the installations it is still a step in the right direction.
Detroit could have gone down a similar path. The better option would have been to either deploy cheap little free libraries, or use the hundred thousand plus dollars spent on book vending machines and develop and build a hundred larger free library boxes. They would have a huge selection, be highly visible, and help far more people than just the ten book vending machines.
There are already dozens of little free libraries in the Detroit area; just image how an additional hundred could help the community.