On April 30th, the Dona Ana County Little Libraries and Pantries hosted its first Little Libraries & Pantries Community Mass Build. In partnership with Las Cruces de Noche Lions Club, Rotary Club of Las Cruces Rio Grande, Humana, and other organizations, we achieved our goal to build 40 little libraries/pantries with the support of our community.

Thanks to the NMSU Center for Community Analysis, we know that 34% of students in Dona Ana County are reading at grade level by 3rd grade, with 66% of 3rd graders in the county performing below grade level (NMSU CCA, 2019). Developing a lifelong love for reading is directly linked to the number of books children have access to. Dona Ana County Little Libraries and Pantries-DACLLP have increased access to books and created book-rich environments by placing little libraries throughout our community.

We had an incredible response from the community. Organizations, families, and individuals applied to build a little library at the event. The Las Cruces de Noche Lions Club volunteers were part of the event from start to finish. Members prepped the materials to build all 40 little libraries and stayed through the event, providing tools and assistance for those who needed it. Our main sponsor for the Community Mass Build was the Rotary Club of Las Cruces Rio Grande. The club also adopted this project as their club project and had members of its club be part of the event. Lowe’s Home Improvement sold us the materials needed for the build at their cost. Without the discount we received from Lowe’s, we would not have been able to purchase all the materials.

The Community Mass Build was such a success! We had builders of all ages, families, and individuals. Not only did we accomplish our goal, but we also built community partnerships and provided an opportunity for families to connect with their community. It was beautiful to see families building their little libraries while teaching their young ones how to use the tools and engaging them in the process.

In addition to the builders getting a little library, we also gave them a starter kit of books. The books were donated by several community organizations, such as the Lions Club, Community Action Agency Thriving Kids, the Children’s Reading Alliance, UNM Early Childhood Services Center, and many others. Each kit had 14 children’s books and about 20 books for adult and teen readers, totaling approximately 1,700 dispursed through the event.

People have been asking us when the next build will be, but the truth is that we are not sure if this will become an annual event. There are so many different factors that need to be considered. We are confident that the event would not have been possible without the generous donations and sponsorships we received. If we decide to organize another Community Mass Build event, we will look at partnering with other rural communities outside Las Cruces and DAC with higher needs. Another consideration is organizing a mass build event to build little libraries for elementary schools across the county. For information on future events or to see the location of each little library/pantry in DAC, visit the DAC Little Libraries & Pantries Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/974872153042598. For inquiries, contact daclittlelibrariespantries@gmail.com The DACLLP does not provide little libraries to individuals unless the unit will be placed in an area of need and if funding is available.

Cesia Otero is the Coordinator of the Dona Ana County Early Childhood Education Coalition, an initiative of the prenatal to career education initiative known as the SUCCESS partnership, and a member of the DAC Little Libraries and Pantries (DACLLP) steering committee.

The work of the DACLLP is funded by donations and coordinated by community volunteers. Our steering committee members include Las Cruces Public Schools Community Schools Coordinators, the New Mexico Lions Operation Kidsight, Inc. Program Manager, and Thomas Branigan Memorial Library’s Outreach and Marketing Librarian.

Cesia Otero, Coordinator for the Early Childhood Education Coalition