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NMSU education faculty partner with community to launch parent library at Central Elementary

For Central Elementary School parents, taking their children to school each morning now includes the chance to grab a book or magazine from a new Parent Library Zone launched this year.

Two women and one man standing in front of a blue box decorated with titles and holding books.
New Mexico State University College of Education faculty, from left, Mary Fahrenbruck and David Rutledge worked with Eunice Zemek, Title I coordinator at Central Elementary School, to launch a Parent Library Zone at the school. (NMSU photo by Julie M. Hughes)

The idea for the new literacy opportunity was presented to the school by New Mexico State University College of Education faculty Mary Fahrenbruck and David Rutledge, based on a national initiative called the Little Free Library.

The Little Free Library concept started in Wisconsin in 2009 and continues to grow across the country with the intent to promote literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges. Rutledge and Fahrenbruck both encountered the program during summer trips to different states and when they compared notes, decided they wanted to bring the concept to Las Cruces.

The little libraries are constructed and placed in a central location where people can leave or take a book. The idea is to share books for free. Most of the little libraries are made from recycled materials. This first library in Las Cruces was a combined effort of many people, including teachers and children at Central, as well as the Mesilla Valley Alternative Middle School, formerly Mesilla Valley Training Center or MVTC.

Rutledge immediatly thought of the alternative school to build the libraries and partnered with John Arguello, the building trades and industrial arts instructor. The school is a project-based learning program where middle school students can gain practical skills in addition to tackling the core curriculum.

?This was a good chance for them to build something that?s interesting and new,? Rutledge said.

Once the students had created a box or library, that?s when Fahrenbruck approched Eunice Zemek, the Title I coordinator at Central. Not only did the school feel the project would complement their other literacy efforts, such as a rolling book exchange cart for the students, but the teachers and students embraced the library and made it their own as a gift for the parents.

?This was another opportunity to enrich our parents? lives and build on the literacy initiatives already happening,? Zemek said. ?It was truly a community endeavor.?

Zemek said fourth-grade teacher Raymondo Montes built a base and roof for the library. With support and assistance from each of their teachers, students in the second-grade painted the library and base, third-graders attached the tiles to the library and fifth-graders decorated the tiles, which were donated by CASA Mexicana Tile. Art teachers Cynthia Smith and Mary Long also helped with the project.

Fahrenbruck said it was enjoyable to watch the children recognize their efforts to create the library zone for their parents during the unveiling, as well as watching parents approach the library to look at available books.

Fahrenbruck has collected books for several months for the library, from garage sales and even through Mesilla Valley Estate Sales, who gave her great prices on books at the end of their sales. She said many companies and individuals have donated books to the project as well.

Fahrenbruck said she knew Central would be a good school for the first Las Cruces library because she knew if they agreed to participate, they would really go all out to make the library work. The dynamics of transportation for the school also played a role, as it is a ?walking school,? where most of the children are taken to school by their parents, many of whom walk their children to school from the surrounding neighborhoods.

?The Parent Library Zone was put into place to provide access to literacy for family members,? Fahrenbruck said. ?One of the things we know is that literacy in the home is very important, it helps support the literacy activities that take place outside the home, particulary in schools. So if we can build that literacy environment at home, it builds a better base or foundation for students as they begin to enter school.?

Both Rutledge and Fahrenbruck said they hope this will be the first of many Little Free Libraries in Las Cruces. To donate books for the Central Parent Library Zone, email Fahrenbruck at mfahren@nmsu.edu. To learn more about the libraries, visit littlefreelibrary.org.