BOOKS IN BALTIMORE 

The Maryland Book Bank and One Book Baltimore showcase the innovative work to #endbookdeserts in Baltimore.

The Maryland Book Bank is a nonprofit organization committed to cultivating literacy in children from under-resourced neighborhoods. In 2018 alone, they distributed almost 400,000 books. They offer three central programs: the Book Bank, a mobile Bookmobile (staffed by the Baltimore Ravens), and the Home Library Program.

One Book Baltimore is a collaboration among several local organizations to provide opportunities for Baltimore City 7th and 8th graders, their families and community members to connect through literature by reading the same book. The 2018 selection was Dear Martin by Nic Stone, and the 2019 selection was Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (click here to listen to the previous podcast with Jason!). The aim of One Book Baltimore is to use a shared text to connect Baltimore City 7th and 8th graders, their families, and community members. 

RESOURCES & LINKS

TRANSCRIPT

Molly Ness

Admittedly, I’m biased about the topic of this episode – books in Baltimore. I’m a Baltimore native – grew up there, attended college there, and when I talk about heading home for the holidays – I’m referring to my childhood home in Baltimore. I’m a huge Orioles fan – despite their recent losing streaks – so much so, that I actually named my daughter after my childhood idol baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken. While I’m proud to be from Baltimore, the city does have some significant challenges – some of which have played out in recent news stories. But the literacy rates in Baltimore are especially challenging – as 21% of 3rd graders read below grade level. Great things are happening in Baltimore with regard to book access – as shown by today’s guests: the first guest chats about One Book Baltimore, and then we’ll hear from the executive director of the Maryland Book Bank.

Molly Ness

I began by chatting with Megan McCorkell from the Enoch Pratt Free Library about One Book Baltimore. One Book Baltimore is a collaboration among several local organizations to provide opportunities for Baltimore City 7th and 8th graders, their families and community members to connect through literature by reading the same book. Free copies of the book are being distributed to all Baltimore City Public Schools 7th and 8th graders. Additional copies are available for check-out at all Enoch Pratt Free Library locations, as well as Little Free Library sites throughout the city

 

Megan McCorkell (One Book Baltimore)

It is our partnership at the Enoch Pratt Free Library with the Baltimore City Public Schools. Um, and Baltimore Ceasefire 365, which is a nonviolence organization. We have a number of other partners including the T Rowe Price Foundation. Um, and a book is chosen for middle schoolers, 7th and 8th-grade students, and the Baltimore Public Schools, um, commit to buying copies of that book for every single 7th and 8th grader to take home to read. And then we at the library do programming that surrounds the themes of that book. Um, so it has been incredibly successful. And its first year, uh, we, the book choice was Dear Martin by Nic Stone, which is just such a powerful story. Uh, Nick Stone the first year came to the Baltimore Book Festival, which is down at our inner harbor and we filled the Enoch Pratt Free Library tent with hundreds of 7th and 8th graders so that they could sort of meet her and get an introduction to her before they were reading the book. And then she came back a few months later and, uh, did school visits and did public programs throughout, uh, Baltimore. So. it was after the kids read the book and after they were able to come to programming at all 22 of our locations. Um, and that programming really surrounded the themes of the book. Um, this year, we're really excited to have Jason Reynolds as our author for One Book Baltimore. Um, his book Long Way Down was, um, selected this year and it's just such a powerful book. So, we announced, uh, the author and Jason was in town. Um, and we filled our central library with 400 7th and 8th graders. And you would've thought we were at a rock concert cause they were so excited to see him come out on the stage. Um, and he just gave such a powerful talk to the kids. Um, and then they'll go home, they'll read the book. We're also encouraging their families to read the book. So, we have extra copies in all of our libraries. We want families to come to the program. Um, and then Jason will be coming back to Baltimore in December to do school visits. Um, and honestly what we really hope is that this sparks conversations in our libraries that might be difficult, that might be around topics that are hard to bring up. Um, and it sparks conversations in the libraries, in the schools, and then at dinner tables as the whole community kind of rallies around reading this one book. 

 

Megan McCorkell (One Book Baltimore)

Well, I don't think there is a person out there who doesn't know um, my absolute love affair with Jason Reynolds. Um, he’s just done so much for literacy. I have, I was lucky enough to have him on the, to hear about his work providing book access. If any listeners out there haven't heard him on my podcast, go and listen to him because he's doing such important work, not only as a writer but just as an advocate for social justice and for children's literature.

Megan McCorkell (One Book Baltimore)

And he's captivating. I mean, you should see the, you could hear a pin drop in the room and there were 400 7th and 8th-grade middle schoolers there and you can hear a pin drop because they all were so interested in everything he had to say. There was a long line of kids that had really amazing, wonderful questions. He just connects with them on a different level and it was so powerful to see that. And I think it will inspire even more of them to read the book and participate in the program….it's a book, it's written in verse. It is, um, you know about nonviolence. So, like, but he is so captivating. The writing from the very first page is so captivating that like you think I'm going to give a 7th and 8th graders a book inverse to read and you're like, Whoa. I don't know. But the second I couldn't put it down, I sat at my desk and read it. Yeah. The whole time and kicked people out of my office so I could keep reading it.
 

Molly Ness

In its two years, One Book Baltimore is already creating a buzz in the city and boosting reading culture. 

 

Megan McCorkell (One Book Baltimore)

Um, you know, last year we had, uh, about 3000 families, um, and kids, 7th and 8th graders coming into the library, uh, to, to participate in programming. Um, so we were so excited to see the conversations that were sparked to the important topics that were covered. Um, how passionate kids were talking about the book, Dear Martin. And we're seeing almost the same thing. I mean there's something kind of special when an author, you know, why an author is treated like a rock star, you know that kids have this special connection with them through that book. And that is what we've seen. Cause one of the big things with this program is certainly to empower kids to be lifelong learners, to find the books that speak to them, um, and let them know that, you know, textbooks are really important and that they're going to, uh, you know, have those their whole, entire school career. But there's also something to be said about being able to see yourself in literature. And that's kind of what sparks the people that get that love of reading. And we want to be able to do that by finding books that really speak to the students, um, and speak to their lives. And then they talk about it after they're in, you know, after they're reading it, they can sit around and talk to their friends about it. And we've seen that we've seen that in our libraries where it's teens and 7th and 8th graders sitting and talking about this book and there's something that just really warms your heart to see something like that.

 

Molly Ness

Megan was also sure to tell me some of the other innovative programming that Enoch Pratt does to get books into the hands of readers.

 

Megan McCorkell (One Book Baltimore)

I will say at the Pratt library, we're kind of powerhouse of programming. Um, so we do offer, um, something for everyone. Um, we actually have a ton of kids at a lot of our libraries. When the school bell rings and they get out of school, I always say like, don't stand in front of the front door you're going to get because it's just like huge, huge crowds of kids come in. So, we always love to see that. Um, and we always want to provide fun programming for them so that they know the library is kind of their space. Um, we actually just opened in our central library, just underwent $115 million renovations. Um, so it's a gorgeous space and we opened a teen center that's about 10 times the size of our old teen center that's got a maker space in it that has 3-D printers and an audio-video recording studio and all kinds of amazing technology that kids can come in and use for free after they get out of school.

Molly Ness

Well, kudos to you guys for creating a space that readers want to use. So much of, um, the work that I do in this podcast is, is spreading the message that to build lifelong readers, it's not just enough to give kids’ books, but we have to promote reading culture. And obviously, as we're doing that at the Enoch Pratt Library, which I was fortunate enough to go to as a kid and now many kids are still going to a newer, cooler, more innovative space than, than the one that I have visited in the 80s.

Megan McCorkell (One Book Baltimore)

Well, what I find too, like looking at libraries across the country, that libraries are so incredibly adaptable, um, and they adapt with the times. So, I think a lot of people were like, Whoa, when Google happened, like, what do we need a library for? And now I feel like libraries are more vital than ever. Um, they provide one space where everybody in society can come in and be treated. Absolutely. Equally. I like to say our programming, I mean, we do hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of programs every single month for all age groups. And I always challenge people like I dare you to come to the library and not find something that's here for you.

Molly Ness

I love that, that idea of the library as the great equalizer.

Megan McCorkell (One Book Baltimore)

Yeah. I mean, we take that very seriously. Um, that it's our job to level the playing field. And we know, especially in the city of Baltimore when it comes to things like digital equity, that so many people don't have access to internet in their homes. We are one of the largest providers of free internet in the entire state of Maryland. Um, so we really look at ourselves as a vital, vital part of this community. Um, and we take that responsibility really seriously.

Megan McCorkell (One Book Baltimore)

We actually have three mobile units that go out into our communities and we specifically target communities that don't have a library that's within- on a bus line or within walking distance. Um, so we have a book buggy that is for our younger children that when you walk on, it's like a magical children's library inside. Um, and we do storytimes on the book buggy and we'd go daycare and WIC centers, nonprofit WIC centers across the entire city of Baltimore. They do two a day, four days a week, um, and they're in very, very high demand. We have a bookmobile, um, that's essentially a library on wheels that goes again, four days a week. Um, they go to a one-one neighborhood in the morning and one neighborhood in the afternoon. Um, and we have a mobile job center because one of the big things that we were seeing where people coming in to use our computers to apply for jobs, but what were they doing in communities where they couldn't get to the library? So, we have chosen areas where unemployment is about 50% or higher. So, it's our highest rates of unemployment and we target those areas. Um, the mobile job center is a giant RV that has 13 computer terminals on it that are connected to satellite internet and we've got two workforce librarians that work on it so people can literally, I've watched people come on the bus who have said they've never had a resume before and 45 minutes later they walk out with a flash drive that has their resume on it and then multiple copies of a resume that they've gotten assistance in putting together

 

Molly Ness

Next, I was joined by Mark Fiering, executive director of Maryland Book Bank, who explained the origins of the book bank. 

 

Mark Fiering (Maryland Book Bank)

The Maryland Book Bank was actually started by a couple of people from the program called Baltimore Reads some, almost 25 years ago. And when Baltimore Reads was closing up, I had come on to help them kind of straighten out the book bank and it was doing very well, and I wanted to take it off on its own. So, they allowed me to take the program off about six years ago and we renamed it as a Maryland Book Bank and started to expand our relationships in the program, uh, growing statewide and we distributed roughly between seventy-five to a hundred thousand books a year at those early stages. And now six years later, it looks like we'll be distributing close to 420,000 books this year. Um, and since we've moved into a much larger warehouse, we're able to get in truckloads of books that allows us to continue that growth exponentially as much as we like. We also have a relationship with the Baltimore Ravens, and they bought us now two bookmobiles, which change how we deliver the program drastically. Um, what we decided to do is we started a home library program whereby we deliver 10 books to any number of children from, it'll be kindergarten to second grade and they get to select the books themselves. They put them in a nice bag and they're bringing them home. They don't have to bring them back. Then there were books to keep and then we'll come back a second time. So, by the end of the year, they've got 20 books that their very own that they didn't start with and it's directly to the students. So of course, or you can imagine if they're selecting the books themselves, it makes a big difference as to whether or not they're going to read them. So those, they will end up with the same number of books that their middle-income counterparts by the time they are through the program. So we just signed an MOU, a memorandum of understanding with city schools that makes this an official program that's delivered to the literacy blueprint schools that are here in Baltimore, which is a great program where this, the school that provided a, a literacy tutor, if you will, someone who supports the kids and helps them really grapple with any kind of issues they may have with reading. And certainly, with access to books, what's, it's always a big challenge for the children that we serve. Um, so we expanded that program from 2,000 kids last year. We will be giving that program to 5,000 children in this year, uh, in almost 30 schools and we will continue to grow the program along with the literacy blueprint schools. As that grows, hopefully, another year we’ll increase at least twofold. And as we are ramping up, we're able to meet the demand just because it's a good, slow exponential growth, that's not something that's just exploding. Um, even though it sounds like it is when you go from 2000 to 5,000 kids, but we really want this to be a program that's delivered citywide. And if we can do that, that would be, that would, that would really help us meet our mission here in Baltimore. We will often, when we asked the kids on the bookmobile, uh, ask them, have any of you have any books at home of your own? And you'll see maybe one or two hands go up out of 20. Uh, so we definitely are dealing with children who are challenged. Um, the resources aren't there for them. And we try to provide the most basic resources to the children directly to the…. Um, one of the stories we heard recently was from a parent who said they, she was actually reading ingredient labels to food for the food in the house to their kids. And we've had parents tell us that they read the mail to their kids cause they don't have anything at home. So, we're able to at least address that issue. And then we also provide books directly to teachers and families and programs through the book bank itself. So, people come in and they'll select books, bring them back to their schools, build their home library, build their classroom library, build the school libraries. Um, and through that we distributed, I'm guessing it was about close to 200,000 books just through that program last year. And it was a hundred thousand last year through the bookmobile. So, and you can imagine when we're hitting 420,000 this year, our region growing significantly. And it's mostly because of the relationship that we have with some of the books supply or it's been fantastic.

Molly Ness

So, let me pause for a second and ask you to spend a little more time talking about the bookmobile because my understanding and some of my wanting to focus on this is in honor of my fourth-grade daughter who is a huge reader herself. But more importantly, she wants everybody to know that she's a huge Baltimore Ravens fan. I don't know how my fourth-grade daughter is a football fan, um, with me as her mother. I'm not sure how that one happened. Um, but explain that because that obviously is going to have a lot of appeal to young readers and it really is a, um, a way to go into the neighborhood and reach kids where are, where they are. So, so talk to us a little bit about those logistics.

Mark Fiering (
Maryland Book Bank)

Well that, that was an interesting story. And they were actually Heather Doheny, who's the director of community relations and the head of their foundation was referred to me by some folks over at the Weinberg Foundation, um, to talk about small grants, $5,000 here or there. We program want that kind of thing. And I of course said yes. So, we have to about talking for about a half an hour to Heather who was amazing, wonderful to talk to. I said, well, what do you think about this idea? And I pitched the bookmobile and I said, this would allow us to drive into the neighborhoods regardless of the socio-economic situation and deliver books directly to the children because transportation is definitely an issue for some of these kids. Almost all of them actually. And of course, the supply is definitely an issue. So, she loved it and we wrote it up on a one-page sheet and within a matter of hours, they had approved it and came in. And that's where I had to admit to the entire Ravens Foundation that I was from New England and that wasn't going to change.

Molly Ness

Uh oh.

Mark Fiering (
Maryland Book Bank)

I would say…. Um, and they have been absolutely remarkable to work with. I've had corporate relationships before and sometimes it's just very superficial and can be difficult. This has been from the top down from Steven Bisciotti, Dick Cass, everybody down. Amazing. They've been very supportive. There'll be in the warehouse actually, uh, this Tuesday to volunteer with us. Um, we were a part of their volunteer day that they had, uh, they came in here and helped all the organizations that were in the collaborative warehouse and they have been extremely supportive and also continuing the relationship as well. It's not true. They bought us a truck and then went away. They obviously have Poe come out, uh, to the schools, which can very often be a lot of fun and it can also scare the crap out of some kid. We had one little girl, one screaming and they had to go shag her down. And we found out this whole new phenomenon, people just being terrified of, uh, these characters that come out, but he knew how to handle it and it was a lot of fun in the end. Um, but that gets the kids all kind of jazzed up about reading and yet some excited, sometimes some of the players come out when. Brandon Carr has been extremely supportive of some of the schools that we work with and with us. Uh, so you get the guys who are just gold when they come out and these kids see them and they're like, okay, somebody actually thinks we count. And we've had some teachers say to us, we never thought anyone will come to our school cause no one ever comes here. And the way even that we'll do that kind of thing. And that's what we wanted to do as well. Um, we take the responsibility of representing that brand seriously and we want to make sure that we do it right. Um, and they've been very, very, uh, forthright and, and supportive of us and we really appreciate that relationship. And because of that, we've been able to really change how we deliver what we do. Um, the home library program was initially something where we would pack up some bags of books and drop them off to schools. And then, of course, you know how that is. It can be sitting in a front hallway for months before it actually gets distributed. In this case with the bookmobile, the children come on and it's fun. It's decorated, has got all kinds of graphics on it. There's a football field on the floor. Um, there's jets flying overhead, there are people sitting in the stands all around. Uh, so it's fun to walk onto and the kids get excited about that. But the neat thing is that they pick these books and then the amazing thing to watch is when they go and sit down right outside and just start reading, especially the boys. And you see that happen all the time. I know we read out loud and then we do each other. So, it's very encouraging to watch that. They dig right in and they get excited about that second go around and you see them the second time picking books with a little more purpose and knowing what they like, um, and getting things that they know they're going to be able to bring home. And you know, every once in a while, we'll hear the question, can I put my name in this as I guess, you know, it's yours. And they're always thrilled about that. They let on a big cheer when they hear that they get to take it home and keep it. 

 

Molly Ness

I asked Mark both about the impact that the Maryland Book Bank is having and about its future plans.
 

Mark Fiering (Maryland Book Bank)

We're seeing home libraries built everywhere. We measure the number of books that get out, um, because of the fact that we have, as I said, the ability to bring in more. We're able to just to distribute more. So, we're definitely having an impact in the classrooms. Um, teachers are coming in. We have unlimited distributions and they can get as many books as they need from time to time and build their entire classroom library all in one shot. Uh, we are actually putting books into the hands of children with countless studies have shown is a great deal of impact on the ability to read and their proficiency has particularly up to the 3rd grade. Um, when you just have books in the home cause they're going to put them up. We see that every day when they get off the bookmobile leave here and they're reading immediately. Um, we're able to measure through surveys that we do, their enthusiasm for reading, how that changes over the course of the year. By the second time we get there, we ask them the same questions and, and it's amazing what having just some books at home and seeing their own improvement, uh, and working with their parents to learn to read how that affects them and their psyche and their other studies that have been done that show that the children who are not proficient by the 3rd grade have a 16% greater chance of dropping out of high school. So that's really what we're trying to, trying to work to, to squash to some extent and make sure that we keep these kids in school and help them understand the power of reading and the power of books. And parents certainly do, for the most part, we work with Raising a Reader as well. We try to make sure that we go into schools where Raising a Reader was located. Of course, they work with PreK and kindergarten and some 1st grade. But the kids get to take a book home, take a bag of books home every week, and then they have to bring them back. And they were books that have been selected by Raising a Reader. But the important part of that program is the parental involvement piece. And they get the parents to engage in working with the children, uh, teaching them how to read, teaching them how to understand what they read, which is a big part of it. And then we kind of pick up where they leave off and we continue distributing to both to the kindergarten and 2nd grade. And then, um, we'll go up to about 5th grade, uh, shortly on the bookmobile. We're up at 4th grade now. So as long as we can keep that ball rolling, then you know, we're doing what we supposed to do and we're seeing these surveys coming back with great, great improvement over the course of the year as they get more books at home. So, uh, just to say that we've been able to go from 100,000 books to 420,000 books distributed, right, there was quite a significant impact. I want further that down. We have people coming in from Virginia. We have people, we've had Amish come in, uh, from Pennsylvania. Someone went and picked a group of them up and came in. Uh, there, there are programs that used to do what we do, and they've closed up that we've managed to make it work somehow. So, uh, well we're here and we're here for the long haul. So, it's kinda nice to have so much community support because people do understand that it's a great deal of impact.

Mark Fiering (Maryland Book Bank)

…Well, we do see that we want to, um, grow the distribution up to a million books a year at some point. And I think the home library program is really the big focus of what we're doing right now. Uh, we want that to be citywide. We think it's really important for these children to have those home libraries. And recently the board of directors has started kicking around the idea of possibly opening a second location down in the D.C. area. Uh, there's a great deal of demand down there. It would be financially feasible and supported. Uh, we'll get very good books from the community donated to us. So, we're thinking about that within the next five years or so.
 

Molly Ness

I took the chance to ask both guests about a book that has had an impact on them.

 

Megan McCorkell (One Book Baltimore)

The book that is currently on my nightstand and it has a permanent place. There is The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. Um, I love the story. It's a fable. It has so many. Um, you know, I feel like each chapter reminds you of a really great life lesson, but it also, um, I loved recently, I'm like a podcast junkie too and I listened to Oprah's podcast all the time and so she interviewed him and he talked about how when he first put that book out it was like a complete failure. No one would buy it. No one, no one to buy it. And then it started getting like drumming up support and now it's like on the bestseller list all the time and it's, it lasted on the bestseller list for years and years. It was just so interesting to listen to him talk about how he kind of like willed that into being. It was just very inspiring. And it's a book I just sort of tend to go back to whenever I'm in between other books. It's kind of always on my nightstand and I can always reread it and find something else in it.
 

Mark Fiering (Maryland Book Bank)

A little more impactful for other reason was Trevor Noah’s book, believe it or not, born- Born a Crime. Crime. Fascinating insight into race, um, and into just the struggles that he had and that so many people have, uh, with regards to race. And it was so prevalent. It was very, um, apropos for today's thoughts and, and the struggles that so many people are having and how we're starting to deal with race. Uh, but he's of course dealing with it with humor though it was fantastic, and it really made me a huge fan of his, I was really enthused by reading that book. I tore right through it and I laughed the whole time. But he's a very interesting and intelligent man and I would encourage anyone to read that book

 

Molly Ness

So, I get a little defensive because Baltimore sometimes gets a bad rap in terms of news and media and attention. Um, and certainly Baltimore has its challenges. Um, the Orioles being one of them…this was, uh, I, I my, my family and I always joke that every year is a rebuilding season. It's rebuilding season. I think they've been rebuilding since I was a, a kid and they won the world series. Um, I digress, but Baltimore gets a bad rap and I really am so thrilled to be able to feature some amazing work that is going on in terms of literacy and reading culture and highly engaging events for young readers in the city of Baltimore…

 

Megan McCorkell (One Book Baltimore)

Yeah, there's a lot of great people in Baltimore doing a lot of great work and we're just proud to be among them.

Molly Ness

And I, you are making me now even prouder to say that I am from Baltimore. I never know if the term is that you're a native Baltimoron.

Megan McCorkell (One Book Baltimore)

I think it’s Baltimorean.

Molly Ness

Um, but I'm proud to be from Baltimore and I'm proud to see the work that is going on there now.

 

Molly Ness

Thank you so much to Megan McCorkell of Enoch Pratt Library and One Book Baltimore and Mark Fiering, of the MD Book Bank not only for their time but for the work that you are doing to get books into the hands of young readers in my hometown. I’m hoping that I’ve convinced some listeners out there why they should root for the Ravens – the only National Football team whose namesake is a literary reference. For more about our Baltimore Books guests, visit www.endbookdeserts.com.

End Book Deserts is a registered 501(c)(3). All donations are tax deductible
Stay up to date on the latest End Book Deserts News.
End Book Deserts is proud to be a part of the Education Podcast Network
EPN_badge.jpg