Good Neighbors

Teacher Creates Library In Her Garage For Students

When she learned that some of her students lived over 15 miles away from a public library, she jumped into action.

When I was growing up, going to the library was always an adventure. I could spend hours wandering through the rows of books and shuffling through the handwritten files in the (now antique) card catalog.

Even if I didn't have any idea what I wanted when I entered the building, I always came out with a stack of titles that I couldn't wait to read, my heart fluttering as my hands gripped the smooth covers.

Jennifer Martin also knows how important it is to have easy access to a library. She's been an elementary-school reading teacher for 20 years, and for the past three years she's been teaching at a school outside of Austin, TX.

video c/o Jennifer Martin

The district where Martin works enrolls students from remote neighborhoods, where most families have to drive over 15 miles to reach the nearest public library.

Martin recently opened a free library in her garage for kids to come and grab books when they need them. With over 1,500 titles in her personal collection, she told GMA the idea for the library was a "no brainer."

"In order to create a lifelong reader, a student has to find the joy of reading," Martin said.

Martin's library was a community effort, with people donating books and students drawing bookmarks. Jennifer Martin/Facebook

With the help of her father (they share their home), and some of her neighbors, Martin built shelves and hung colorful tapestries on the walls of the garage. She filled children's bookshelves, stacking crates and laundry baskets with books. A few kids in the community donated hand-drawn bookmarks.

"Del Valle doesn't have a library," Martin wrote in a Facebook post. "We have a racetrack and now Tesla but no library. As a teacher, that's very disappointing, but look what you can do with the help from friends!"

All visitors to the library must practice social distancing and wear masks and gloves. Jennifer Martin/Facebook

Martin collected old titles from the school, and she makes weekly trips to a shop in Austin that sells surplus books for 50 cents each.

"When I discovered that, I would just go in and see so many titles that I knew my kids wanted," she said. "I don't need to go out to eat for fancy food. Instead, I can spend $20 and get dozens of books."

Martin often uses her own money to buy new titles at a surplus book store in Austin, TX. Jennifer Martin/Facebook

The library operates on an honor system and children can check out two books at a time. When they're finished reading their selections, they can return them for two more.

Due to Covid, everyone is required to wear masks and gloves in the library. Martin is following CDC guidelines and has been cleaning and sanitizing the books daily.

The library is giving Martin a chance to connect with her students, who are learning virtually for their first semester this fall. Jennifer Martin/Facebook

Now that the district has returned to school for virtual learning, Martin says the library gives students a chance to connect with her and with others over books. She's hoping the project will inspire more youth to become life-long readers.

"Reading is the crux of everything," she said. "It doesn't even matter what you're doing or what you're teaching if you haven't helped bridge the gap between a student and the world of literature, and access to books is the first way to do that."

Martin hopes the library will help more children experience the "joy of reading." Jennifer Martin/Facebook

How can you start something good?

If you would like to contribute to Miss Martin's library garage, you can purchase a book from her Amazon Wish List.

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