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Clarke Alumna Creates a Diverse Little Free Library

By Clarke News  |  August 5, 2020
A selection of books for the Diverse Little Free Library.

Lauren Erbach Barnfield ’07 found herself searching for a meaningful way to do something positive with her extra time at home during the pandemic. After some thought, she decided to create a Diverse Little Free Library in her community. She said that Clarke instilled a lot of the tools she has needed to be successful in tackling challenges in her life and moving forward to create something positive.

Erbach Barnfield said, “I’m a mom who wants a better world for her kids, who are ages three and two. I grew up in a very white suburb of Chicago. I’m a non-profit professional, a Clarke grad, an avid reader, feminist, and activist. I’m a mother, a friend, a wife, a Hanson fan. I am determined.”

She continued, “I have tremendous privilege. While I’ve been aware of this, I am only beginning to realize the extent to which that is true. I’ve been reading, and learning, and listening. I’ve also been trying to find something I can do to make a difference, however small, in this world.”

Erbach Barnfield and her family live in a beautiful little suburb just across the street from Chicago, on the north side. They fell in love with their home and also the incredible population of immigrants that have settled there. As of 2017, 30.7% of Norridge residents were born outside the U.S., compared to a national average of 13.7%.

Despite this diversity, Norridge, like most of Chicago’s north side, is overwhelmingly (97%) white.

Barnfield said, “I think often about what kind of impact it will have on my children to grow up in a neighborhood where almost everyone looks like them. Our bookshelves at home and the media we consume is intentionally diverse and features lots of strong women, LGBTQ characters, and people with disabilities. But we can always do and be better. We will make it a point to seek out new experiences and explore different neighborhoods.”

And, to make a small impact on her own neighborhood, Erbach Barnfield has begun working to cultivate a Diverse Little Free Library. As of August 8, it will have its home in her front yard, and she will intentionally stock it with books written by and featuring people of color, women, and other minority groups. She plans to include books for both children and adults, but her primary focus is children’s books.

She believes strongly that building an anti-racist, inclusive foundation in children starts at a young age. Their home libraries should reflect the diversity they will see in the world. If their neighborhood is not diverse, she thinks it’s even more important to get exposure to people who don’t look like they do or have the same life experiences. Sometimes the littlest things can make the biggest difference.

Private donations from family and friends allowed for the library to be purchased and stocked with books purchased from Semicolon, a Chicago-based, Black woman-owned bookstore. So far, over 100 books have been donated, and she has raised enough funds to cover the cost of a well-built library designed to survive the harsh Chicago winters. Opening weekend August 8 – 9. It is her hope that she will collect enough books to keep the library, as well as other Little Free Libraries in the Chicagoland area, well-stocked with diverse books for years to come. A bookplate inside each book reads, “This Diverse Little Free Library books was chosen with love. Please add it to your home library and treat it with care. When you’re finished, return it to a Little Free Library so others can enjoy it.”

Erbach Banfield shared, “My time at Clarke, specifically in the Education Department, taught me to value the stories of others. Some of my more memorable experiences include the lessons I learned in Paula Schmidt’s special education classes, where I learned to value all points of view – from the student to the parent – and to have empathy for those whose life does not look like mine. At Clarke, I saw tremendous examples of the ways one person can make a difference, and was encouraged to give back to the local community. My time at Clarke shaped who I am today, and my elementary and special education classes fostered a love of learning and education that has outlasted my teaching career and given me skills that I utilize in all facets of life.”She also notes that this project is heavily inspired by Sarah Kamya @LittleFreeDiverseLibraries who she found on Instagram. Kamya, who is based in Massachusetts, has raised more than $13,000 to send diverse books all over the country.

For more information on Erbach Banrnfield’s Diverse Little Free Library, please visit the library’s Facebook page.