Big on the Little
Zavala Elementary School, El Paso Independent School District, TX
MLIS, University of North Texas, 2010
Lisa Lopez was the first person in the state of Texas to install a Little Free Library (LFL)—the birdhouse-like free book exchanges pioneered by Rick Brooks and Todd Bol (see p. 38). In fact, she established two: one inside Zavala Elementary School and one outside. Her primary impetus, she says, was the threat of the school’s closure, a result of low enrollment, poor standardized test scores, and budgetary cuts. In addition, says Lopez, the federal government had recently cut Reading Is Fundamental (RIF), a major source of funds for free books for students, and she needed to fill the void.
“I researched the LFL project and saw it as a great initiative to highlight literacy, libraries, our campus, sharing, recycling, and enhancing a sense of community,” says Lopez, who began at Zavala in 2009 while working on her MLIS. “Our border area has unfortunately been ranked as one of the most illiterate in the United States. I wanted to do something that benefited the entire community.” Lopez promoted the little libraries via press releases and even a video, attracting attention not only from local news media but from national publication USA Today.
As the “unofficial Little Free Library Ambassador of El Paso,” she augmented the structures donated by LFL by reaching out to local builders. She worked with local organizations like the El Paso Public Library Association to help install them at 15 city Health Department WIC (women, infants, children) clinics. She also presented the idea districtwide; 15 El Paso Independent School District campuses have LFLs. Altogether there are some 40 LFLs across El Paso and San Elizario, TX, and Sunland Park, NM.
Although born in El Paso, Lopez grew up across the border in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, where her only access to books was in stores. When she moved back to El Paso at age 14, she says on the Zavala library’s website, “The first thing I did…was to get a library card…. Ever since then, I have been fascinated with the borrowing concept of libraries.” She’s doing a lot to promote that concept.