On a recent Saturday afternoon, sisters Ayanna and Akinna Carpenter are looking for good books to read in the new ReadingWORKS children's library in South Memphis. The twins flip through books until Akinna settles on Beauty and the Beast and Ayanna chooses The Powerpuff Girls.
St. Andrew AME Church and The Works, Inc. — a South Memphis community development corporation — opened the ReadingWORKS children's library in the St. Andrew Community Life Center in late June to give low-income kids more opportunities to read. The nearest city library — on Third Street — is five miles away.
"If we're going to create a future workforce for Memphis that is literate and high-achieving, you've got to begin to teach these children to read," said the Rev. Marilynn S. Robinson of St. Andrew AME Church. "Once you can read, you can learn anything."
Robinson cites a survey done by the University of Memphis that found a high percentage of high school dropouts in the church's neighborhood, many of whom quit school in the ninth grade. "That's not going to be a house where books will be plentiful," Robinson said.
She hopes the ReadingWORKS library will appeal to the children of those high school dropouts. Robinson was inspired by her own experience growing up in projects in the Bronx, New York.
"I was a slow reader, and a woman from the Bookmobile came by every Thursday and helped me read," Robinson said. "She went through all kinds of book series with me, like Little House on the Prairie and the Bobbsey Twins."
ReadingWORKS carries books geared toward kids and teens.
"Right now, it's a community library for children, but at some point, we may move into adults," Robinson said. "We want to hit this target and serve them well, and I think we will have changed a community."
Church and community members donated more than 1,000 books, and Robinson hopes to collect about 4,000 books total. The church does not accept books that deal with the occult or contain profanity.
Kids are allowed to borrow books for two weeks. After a grace period following the due date, kids will be assigned to perform community service as opposed to paying a fine.
The library is open on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
"When school starts, we'll change the hours for Wednesdays," Robinson said. "We wanted children to have a cool, quiet, and safe place to go."