For Kelly Sterns of The Walking Books Library, comfortable shoes are a must. To get books into the hands of readers in Western Maine, she walks a loop of 15+ miles of hills and valleys supported by the logging and mining industries. The Walking Books Library was created to engage people not regularly using library, literacy, or literary programs, as well as those needing materials not easily available in rural areas. Kelly walks new, free books to a wide variety of homes from trailers to cabins, from farmhouses to cars, from elder housing apartments to tents. We also provide books to traditional libraries, social workers, town offices, festivals, and homeless and/or teen shelters.
Kelly also prioritizes book distribution to individuals who came to literacy late in life or who may still not read well or at all. She explains, "By being run by people with high school educations, GEDs, those working on their GEDs or those with little formal education, we are able to see and respond to needs that others either ignore or don’t seem to see in the first place."
“We have a hyper local approach, which is we literally go door-to-door or house to house or trailer to trailer or tent to tent or wherever it is that you live. We're happy to bring a book, we go down their path, we walk down the highway- and we’re walking to the grocery store. We try to get you and our loop- have a loop of about 15 miles. So, if I make a full loop, it’s about 30 miles"
Impact for Kelly and the Walking Books Library is measured by joy. As she explains, "How does the person look when they receive the book? Are they astounded by the quality and choice? You can look at pics of people who are certainly happy to be reading versus those who are gobsmacked at their luck. I want the gobsmacked look. All my research, phone calls and emails is to help create that look in our readers. We measure impact by tough kids bragging about their books to other kids, by them offering to help us go through boxes (to get the best selection!) and by them wanting to gift books to their classmates at school. We also measure impact by others referring their neighbors, etc."
“One of our biggest successes is Grandma Gifts, where elders of any gender or relation can gift new, free books on special occasions, on a regular basis or whatever seems appropriate to young people or anyone else in their lives. We encourage people to come “shopping” with us at the holidays, birthdays, for book goodies to hand out at Halloween or anytime.”
Kelly is currently extending her work throughout the sate of Maine and internationally. She has a partnership with a bookmobile in Mexico and a books via burro project in South America. She's also worked with Laundromat Library League (both in Maine and Louisiana) and with a books and barbers project in Kentucky.
One day, I’d like Walking Books Library to be available to people in every state or on any reservation who would like to offer new, free books to their neighborhood, however they define it.