New Hattiesburg initiatives promote reading

New Hattiesburg initiatives promote reading

Some may have noticed the small wooden houses ordained with colorfully painted designs popping up in Hattiesburg over the past couple years. Each house is individual in its design and contains special items that are impacting communities all over the nation.

These special items are books. The unique, little houses offering shelter to the books are libraries. Together, they are part of the national community movement, Little Free Library, an effort to heighten people’s desire to read.

The Hattiesburg Arts Council and the Hattiesburg Alliance for Public Art combined efforts to bring the outdoor community bookshelves to Hattiesburg.

Little Free Libraries is built on a concept through which people are encouraged to take and donate books. The libraries allow communities to indulge in interests of fellow community members, and also share their personal favorites. Each little library has a designated person to make sure the bookshelves are stocked at all times.

Not only do the books foster a desire to read, but each Little Free Library is an example of local art. The HAC or the HAPA encourage anyone interested in building or creating Little Free Libraries in the Hattiesburg area to contact them.

Catharine Bomhold, associate professor for the School of Library and Informational Science at the USM, said the Little Free Libraries are each intended to serve small communities.

“Here in Hattiesburg it was addressed as a community project,” Bomhold said. “Most Little Free Libraries are really one person, one library maybe a neighborhood or something like that where people are exchanging books. The name library is a misnomer because library insinuates you are putting it back and someone is keeping track and things like that as opposed to a book exchange which is just that.”

Organizers intended the Little Free Libraries to benefit underprivileged children in the community. Since the books are free, children who cannot afford educational benefits can take the books as they please.
“My primary soapbox is that kids need to read and kids need books, and anyway I can make that happen I’m there to do it,” Bomhold said.

There have been other various efforts in Hattiesburg to improve illiteracy alongside the Little Free Libraries program. Burger King on Broadway Drive has consistently contributed many community service projects.

According to Joan Anderson, the district manager of the Brooks franchisee of Burger King, the company wanted to find more ways to show its support in the community.

The company met a number of local leaders: Maxine Coleman, a leader of Hattiesburg’s chapter of the National Night Out Program; Valerie Arnold, assistant to Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny Dupree; and Aisha Anderson, member of the USM Council on Community Literacy and Reading. During their meeting, they discussed the possibilities of participating in the Hattiesburg Little Free Library program. The City of Hattiesburg asked if the Broadway Drive location would allow a Little Free Library to be placed there to promote the desire and necessity to read.

Joan Anderson said since the location on Broadway Drive was scheduled for a remodel, the little library was a perfect finishing touch to the revamped Burger King.

Inspired by the Little Free Libraries and their efforts to impact the community, Joan Anderson said the she had the idea of establishing a reading lounge inside of the restaurant instead of a Little Free Library on the outside.

“As a district manager it is an honor to work for a franchisee who are so supportive of the community and this initiative around reading and literacy,” Joan Anderson said. “Mrs. Brooks, being a former educator, was very excited when I discussed the proposal of having a reading lounge at our Burger King location in Hattiesburg.”

Joan Anderson said the lounge is open to the public during normal business hours and can be used by anyone.

“As an additional enticement to our younger readers, we provide them with a punch card that will earn them a free ice cream cone or dessert after they have made 10 separate visits to the reading lounge,” Anderson said. “We pride ourselves on offering a safe, comfortable setting for kids and adults to read while dining.”

Bomhold said she was active in the development of the reading lounge at Burger King.

Bomhold is part of the USM Council on Community Literacy and Reading, which fosters a culture of reading in the Hattiesburg community through its mission of improving the literacy level of the general population and providing those who are passionate about reading with opportunities to share that passion with others.”

Bomhold said the reading lounge at Burger King has evolved into being a part of several developments Hattiesburg is making towards gaining an Excel By 5 accreditation. Excel By 5 is a national organization that certifies towns that have educational benefits for small children under the age of five. Currently, efforts to promote Excel By 5 is established with a partnership between the public school district and the city of Hattiesburg.

Bomhold said she and Aisha Anderson sought to promote small literary movements among the community by putting books in local businesses. The Burger King at the Broadway location is part of the Area Development partnership in Hattiesburg and this is how Burger King became part of the development. Aisha Anderson gained the support of the city and it bloomed into a literacy program tailored to children.

Bomhold said she feels the reading lounge is definitely making a positive impact in the community based off of what outcomes she has seen so far.

“What’s really heartening for me is that other people want to do it. They see it as really contributing to the community, being part of the community and wanting to do something to better the community,” Bomhold said.

Joan Anderson noted that the Brooks Franchisee commits to adding reading lounges to their other Burger King locations in the near future. Joan Anderson also said that the impact this is making on the children is tremendous.

“[The lounge’s effect] can be seen on the faces of the kids as they enter the restaurant and realize that there are books available for them to touch, feel and read,” said Joan Anderson.

Angel Herring, Department of Child and Family Studies assistant professor, said she also thinks the program will be beneficial in the community.

“Any way that we can promote literacy and provide intentional literacy opportunities for children of any age is a good thing,” Herring said. “Reading with your children and children being read to by their parents is the number one predictor in later school success and being effective readers later on.”

Herring said Mississippi is near the “bottom of the barrel” in terms of literacy rates in the country — not Hattiesburg specifically, but definitely statewide. Poverty is a severe problem for Mississippi because it is one of the poorer states, and it directly links to problems with illiteracy.

Herring said it is nice to see efforts to promote literacy in the community, and for Hattiesburg to take active initiative in our statewide problems.
The program has no expiration date.

“For as long as there are guests willing to read,” Joan Anderson said. “We hope to have our reading lounge become a staple in our Burger Kings as we are staples in our communities. It is an honor to have been selected to be the first business to participate.”

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