Barbershop Books hopes to bring reading to more children

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More than 85 percent of black male fourth-graders in the United States are not proficient in reading, according to the 2013 U.S. Department of Education Nation’s Report Card. A program recently instituted by the DeKalb County Public Library (DCPL) will attempt improve that number by bringing books into the barbershop.

Barbershop Books is a national program designed to bring books written for children ages 4 to 8 into barbershops so they can begin to identify as readers.

DCPL is the first Barbershop Books sponsor in Georgia and has one barbershop—ITNOJ Barbershop in Scottdale—on board as a host site. And DCPL is doing everything it can to make the program a success.

“We wanted our barbershops to just be a host site, and we would take care of everything else. So we purchased the bookshelf and we also purchased the books that go on the shelf,” Teresa Totten, DCPL adult programming and services coordinator told The Champion. “Going forward, whenever they need to replenish the shelf with books, that’s our job.”

Why would the shelf need replenishing? Because the library is allowing readers who like a particular book to keep it.

“If they see a book, if they pick up a book and they really love that book, we told the shop owner to let them have it,” Totten said.

ITNOJ Barbershop owner Todd Cofield told The Champion the program has been well-received in his shop.

 

A small shelf sitting along the wall next to the barber chair inside ITNOJ has books aimed at elementary school-aged children, but both Totten and Cofield want to see the program grow beyond its intended limits.

“We expanded [the age range],” Totten said. “We want to cover zero to adult, because we really want to encourage everyone to read. We also tell adults, if you’ve got a little one with you who’s not at an age where they can read yet, read to them. We just want to create that space of community reading in the barbershop.”

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Cofield, who grew up in a house with six siblings who all read together as a family, knows the power of reading. He wants to encourage a sense of a reading-based community in his shop. He said he hopes to soon have a larger shelf of books aimed at children of all ages, and add computer terminals, so school-age children can do research and work on homework.

“I want this to be a place where anyone can come and learn and grow,” he said.

And Cofield’s ambition has the full support of DCPL. Though the library won’t be involved in anything outside of providing books for the shelf, it’s already working to provide books for older audiences and has plans to expand the program to three more DeKalb County barbershops by the end of January.

DCPL also has the full backing of the DeKalb County Library Foundation for any funding it may need to grow the program as large as it can become.

“We’re gonna start with just the four locations and see what the demand is,” Totten said.

DCPL will work with host sites to track frequency of replenishments, specific demands for books and other feedback from children and parents who use the program to try to hone it to the specific audience in DeKalb County as much as possible.

“We’re also thinking we might want to have at least one location in a salon,” Totten said. “We want our little girls to read too.”

Totten said she hopes to launch a salon location in the first quarter of this year, possibly as early as February.
Cofield hopes the program expands into all areas of DeKalb County.

“Most people want to raise their children and they want to do right,” he said. “We’re really the same people raised with different belief systems, but morally, we want to do the same thing.”

Though he sees the goals as congruent, he said there aren’t enough people in his community willing to take matters into their own hands to make those goals a reality. He hopes Barbershop Books can be one tool to change that.

“Especially in the African-American community, we wait on the church to do stuff for us,” he said. “But we’ve got to be the church. We’ve got to make the change come. And the first thing you need for change is knowledge. You need knowledge.”

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