Fighting Illiteracy one book at a time

Riddle: What do you get when you cross a birdhouse with a mailbox while thinking about sharing?

Answer: A Little Free Library, of course.

Students in the LEAP (Leading Edge Acceleration Program) at Mesilla Valley Alternative Middle School are promoting literacy and the love of reading by building adorable “book houses” as part of a global grassroots movement sweeping the nation to make reading accessible and fun in every neighborhood.

Six unique “Houses for Stories” were created by the students of Amanda Marcott at Mesilla Valley Middle School to be put in strategic locations throughout Las Cruces.

Since October 2014, LEAP students in Art and Metal Shop classes have been developing this community project. Marcott created multifaceted coursework to help students explore their own paths to reading, the history and impact of the Little Free Library movement, and to collaborate on designing and building six Little Free Libraries from scratch. To make sure their project was environmentally friendly, the students “upcycled” lumber from wood scraps located on the campus and enlisted the help of the community. Local stucco-specialist, Ernesto Vasquez of L&P Builders volunteered time and resources to cover the libraries in an advanced exterior coating system called EPS. Artglass Specialties generously donated the Plexiglas used to protect the books inside the libraries and long-time Mesilla business, Ristraman Mercado helped the libraries achieve their “iconic New Mexico look” with traditionally woven chile ristras.

The Little Library movement which began in 2009, has its roots in Wisconsin. Todd Bol built a birdhouse-sized replica of a one room school on a post as a tribute to his mother, filled it with books and planted it in his front yard where anyone could take a book or leave one for others to read. Rick Brooks, at the University of Wisconsin, saw the potential for mobilizing the idea for a new generation of readers. Together, the two men expanded on the “Take a book, leave a book” programs they saw in coffee shops and on Wisconsin’s tradition of support for mobile libraries which has its roots In the late 1890’s. Miss Lutie Stearns is well known in Wisconsin history for establishing “traveling little libraries” in 1400 rural locations where community members maintained small collections of books for everyone to share.

The students of Mesilla Valley Middle School turned their creations over to the Children’s Reading Foundation to help them spread the reading habit in Dona Ana County. A taskforce is being formed to determine the best locations. Contact CRF-DAC If you would like to have a little library in your neighborhood and can take responsibility for maintaining it.

Sharing books is a great way to promote a sense of community around reading. Another way to share your love is to read to children. This summer, principals of the LCPS K-3 Plus program in area elementary schools are looking for story time readers for their classes. To find out how you can volunteer as a reader, or as a Little Library caretaker please contact Rhonda Karol at


 The Reading Solution column is written monthly by CRA Board Member Rorie Measure to increase public awareness of issues related to literacy.