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Laundry, libraries, and literacy: Why one group is putting books in laundromats

The Next Idea

Pretend it’s Saturday. 

You and the kids are running errands, including a several-hour stop at the laundromat. They are bored, you are bored.... What if you could use that washer time for something like education? What if your laundromat had the services of a library? 

Well, over the summer, this started happening in Detroit. 

Allister Chang is executive director of an organization called Libraries Without Borders, which is partnering with area laundromats and other organizations to create an innovative program called Wash and Learn. He joined Stateside to discuss the idea.

Chang described the mission of the nonprofit as “to expand access to information.”

“What’s been exciting about this is that we’ve found a space where you’re almost forced to be idle, and, most importantly, we’re reaching a lot of folks who don’t have the resources or might not have the resources for a working washing or drying machine,” Chang said.

The program turns folding stations into computer stations, brings in bookshelves with reading-level-appropriate books, and provides local library staff and facilitators on site to lead programs. Libraries Without Borders has also built a partnership with the Coin Laundry Association to continue spreading the program.

Credit Libraries Without Borders-US
Libraries Without Borders-US
“What has been most exciting about this is that the laundromat owners and staff have really rallied behind us to make this successful," Chang said.

Chang said laundromats see themselves as “community anchors,” and the owners are eager to get involved.

“What has been most exciting about this is that the laundromat owners and staff have really rallied behind us to make this successful,” Chang said. The owners “would love to give back to their customers.”

Next, he said he wants to see the program grow across Michigan, and then even further.

“I’d love to see all 20,000-plus laundromats in the U.S. partner with their local libraries to create literacy corners in every laundromat so that every kid, even if their parents don’t have the capacity to bring them to existing literacy programs, they can participate while their parents are doing laundry,” Chang said.

Click here to learn more.

The Next Idea is Michigan Radio’s project devoted to new innovations and ideas that will change our state.

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