Mill Creek Elementary School debuts Little Free Library and book vending machineApr 30, 2022 11:42AM ● By Lizzie Walie
By Lizzie Walje | [email protected]
Students at Mill Creek Elementary School will now have no shortage of books to read thanks to the new onsite Little Free Library and book vending machine. Both outlets serve as mini dispensers where students can choose a book from amongst various titles and genres. The two new book dispensers are just the latest development in Mill Creek’s longterm initiative to get students excited about reading independently and for pleasure.
“This year one of the main focuses of the PTA has been to stress the importance of reading for students. Well, non-academic reading that is,” said school representative Anna Clark. “As recently as 20, even 10 years ago, the culture surrounding books in schools was much different. Things like Scholastic fairs and book catalogs were a massive part of the culture and a highlight for students. And well, you’d be surprised how many of our parents fondly remembered those events from their childhoods. We wanted to bring that fun, that excitement back into reading for our kids.”
Unsurprisingly, in the past decade, how the world interacts with books has drastically changed. Especially for young children who are now growing up with advanced technology as the norm. Ironically, from an accessibility standpoint, books are easier to access than ever before, and yet youth readership has declined significantly. In 2014, nonprofit group Common Sense Media compiled a roundup of various studies in relation to teen, adolescent, and child readership.
“Nearly half of 17 year olds say they read for pleasure no more than one or two times a year, if that. That’s way down from a decade ago,” Jim Steyer, Common Sense Media’s CEO said.
While none of the studies analyzed cited children’s accessibility to online content as a reason for declined readership, Steyer believes it is naïve to not consider the impact of technology on how children interact with reading. “It just seems like a logical deduction. Increased entertainment options online would lead to decreased interest in offline activities like reading,” Steyer said.
In the near-decade following Common Sense Media’s study, there have been some interesting developments on the forefront of reading trends that suggest Mill Creek Elementary’s focus on championing books is actually becoming more commonplace. For example, what if social media, which is often cited as a direct roadblock to reading, could actually be the catalyst for increasing youth readership? Take for example the phenomenon of #booktok, a subsection of TikTok content that is exclusively concerned with recommending books to millions of viewers. TikTok is one of the most heavily trafficked social media platform in the world right now and if one scrolls through the #booktok hashtag, they’ll find thousands of videos, many with millions of views, recommending books.
National Public Radio reported about the phenomenon of #booktok in December 2021, citing it as a driving factor in book sales. “It's hard to quantify how big BookTok is, because TikTok doesn't release a lot of analytics. But publishers say it has become a major force, especially in the market for young adult and contemporary romance books,” according to the NPR report.
Incidentally, TikTok is far from the only social media platform taking advantage of an increased interest in books. Other platforms like YouTube and Instagram have similar communities, and if the numbers are any indication, it proves that there still is a huge market for reading for pleasure.
Despite these encouraging trends, funding such projects in a public school setting posed a significant challenge for those backing the initiatives at Mill Creek Elementary. “When you’re in a public school system, getting funding for programs that aren’t deemed a necessity is just that much harder. That’s why we’ve relied so heavily on the donations of parents and the community in particular for the book vending machine. And as for the Little Free Library, well, that one we owe a huge thank you to [Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church],” Clark said.
Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, located in Holladay, is well known for its philanthropic work throughout the community. When members of the church overlapped with families at the school, those in the congregation were inspired to help crowdfund the reading initiatives and even suggest some of their own. “We had some people in the congregation who had previously worked to bring Little Free Libraries to the Holladay area,” said a member from the church named Mary[LL1] . “We thought, why not try, and repeat that process but bring the Little Free Library to the school?”
After the church worked extensively with Little Free Library to get the project funded and approved, the official ribbon-cutting ceremony took place April 19. Granite School District took to their social media page to thank the church and further say, “Millcreek Elementary held a ribbon cutting for their new Little Free Library this morning. Students can take a book, read it, and return it. They can also bring a book from home and trade it for a new book from the library.”
Little Free Library, which has multiple locations throughout the Salt Lake Valley, including many in the Holladay/Millcreek area, has found massive success nationwide. The hope is that children can find and derive the same enjoyment in the Little Free Library on their school campus.
As for the book vending machine? It can also be found on campus, located in the library. The innovative dispensing system runs on gold coins and can hold upward of 300 books. Those who funded the machine hope that the novelty of the system piques interest amongst the students. “It’s the gift that keeps on giving and will for years to come,” Granite School District noted on their social media.
When it comes to future plans, Mill Creek vows to continue to support reading as best they can. Whether that looks like bringing back the Scholastic Book Fair or finding ways to appeal to children through programs like Little Free Library.
“Reading, it’s just that important,” Clark said. “There’s so much research that suggests the benefits of reading. And we want that for our students, and we’ve found, thus far, the best way to get them excited is through these modern programs like the vending machine. We look forward to seeing the direct impact on our students.”