The Open Books donation bin can be found behind the Oak Park Public Library. | Cody Chapman

A permanent donation spot has been set up outside the Oak Park Library to collect gently used books for a local nonprofit to distribute to neighboring low-income communities. 

Open Books, a Chicago nonprofit, provides books to thousands of readers each year through increased access, grants, book nooks, and bookstores. Now with an established donation spot in Oak Park, the nonprofit hopes to increase donations and put more books into the hands of excited readers in local communities. 

Laura Wylie, board member at Open Books, said the need for literature materials in Oak Park neighboring communities is great and the new site will hopefully help meet any gaps in reading deserts. 

 “It is quality, engaging books in low-income communities where they don’t have much access to those,” Wylie said. “And it is just putting books in the hands of people.” 

The nonprofits efforts don’t stop at putting books into people’s hands, it is about putting the right books into people’s hands, said Wylie, adding there is a strong focus to ensure there is diversity in the reading materials they provide. 

“They are very mindful about what books they put out in the community,” Wylie said. “They focus on getting books that are bilingual and represent different ethnic groups.” 

Books such as those have made Open Books popular at local neighborhood events, such as a block party in the Austin neighborhood, where many children happily accepted books. 

“It was a lot of happiness, people love free books,” Wylie said. “It was appreciated that we were there and putting books in hands. The block party was awesome…those community instances when we can be there and make those connections with community activists so that we are hearing from them what they need and Open Books is good about coming in on their terms.” 

The nonprofits efforts in Austin don’t stop at block parties. One of the main ways they work to increase literacy in Austin is through their traditional book granting supports which provide teachers with highly-curated books for their classroom libraries. According to Alison Gerber, development director at Open Books, the nonprofit last year granted books to more than 20 educators in the Austin community, with hopes of increasing that number for this school year. 

Lori Pulliam, deputy director at the Oak Park Library, said the partnership opens up new ways for residents to donate. 

“We were excited about the opportunity to have an option for our community members who’d like to donate during the months when we aren’t collecting for the Friends of the Oak Park Public Library’s book fair,” Pulliam said. “Open Books shared that our community has always been a big supporter, through volunteering, donating and shopping at their stores.” 

The “organic partnership” between the library and the nonprofit, as Wylie described it, has already seen success. 

According to Pulliam, within two weeks of the bin’s installment, they realized it needed to be emptied out on a weekly basis due to the high volume of donations. 

Wylie encourages residents to continue to donate the books they have piled on the shelves collecting dust and said the nonprofit remains dedicated to ensuring they end up in the hands of those who need them. 

“The collaboration with the Oak Park Library was easy and everybody seems to be happy,” Wylie said. “As an Oak Parker, we love our library, we love reading in our community and it seems it would be a natural place for cycling through a lot of books and sharing those when we are done with them.” 

The Open Books donation bin is located in the alley behind the Oak Park Library on Lake Street.

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