On a school day in October, Glenmount Elementary/Middle librarian Erin Hauser is grabbing as many books as she can carry from the Ravens Bookmobile—at least 50 or 60, she says.
Other teachers at the Baltimore City school are doing the same.
It’s one of many opportunities they have to engage with The Maryland Book Bank, a nonprofit that provides free books to students across the state who wouldn’t otherwise have access to them.
“To order a new hardback picture book is $17.99, and if you have one, two or three children, that can be, you know, money you just don’t have to spend on a monthly basis,” Hauser says.
The Book Bank has been serving the community since the late 1990s.
From humble beginnings in an old postal space with no windows or bathrooms—and only a few thousand books—in the Baltimore Sun building, the Book Bank has grown into 10,000 square feet of warehouse space at 1794 Union Avenue, in Woodberry, and moves about 500,000 books a year.
Executive Director Mark Feiring says he works with more than 800 schools and organizations statewide.
Middle-income families have an average of 60 books at home, while some lower income families can only afford one or two, Feiring says. The Book Bank has worked to close that gap, partnering with some schools to give each child 20 books per year.
That goal is vitally important. If students are not proficient readers by the end of third grade, they’re four times more likely to drop out of high school, according to a 2012 report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
Feiring says he knew the Book Bank was having an impact when he learned how far some families were traveling for books and why.
“In one case, a woman told us that she reads food ingredients to her child,” he says. “Others have told us that they read the mail—junk mail.”
“These are people who live in areas where there’s no access to a library,” Feiring adds.
Part of the Book Bank’s mission is to add to students’ home libraries. This mission includes ensuring students were sent books while they were at home learning virtually.
Hauser says that across her seven years at Glenmount, she’s gotten 4,000 books from the Book Bank—many of which have been sent home with students to keep, which is very meaningful to them.
She recalls a second grader who set up a special spot in her room to keep her new books clean and safe.
“To me, it really showed that it’s not just a book,” Hauser says. “It’s that space that it creates in a child’s mind.”
Choosing their own books and seeing themselves in the pages also makes students that much more motivated to read, Feiring says, noting his goal is to purchase more books that feature students of color.
The Book Bank is volunteer run, and about 75% of funding comes from an online book-selling social enterprise that employs workers through Baltimore City’s Mayor’s Office of Employment Development. The rest is provided by foundations and the community.
John Scott—a librarian at Powhatan Elementary School in Baltimore County—has used the Book Bank for his students. He formerly worked at Friends School of Baltimore, in which families often had a surplus and would hold book drives to donate to the Book Bank.
“I’m glad to have seen the Book Bank from both sides,” he says.
Feiring says his next goal is to expand the Bookmobile program because it has produced the most growth for the Book Bank while still being centered in student choice.
The Book Bank has helped teachers feel appreciated too, Hauser says.
“Coming back to work and returning from virtual has had its challenges,” she says. Upon seeing the Bookmobile, teachers “feel thought about and cared for. It really meant a lot.”