Ensuring free access to books and fostering a love of reading are central to the Library’s mission, and this summer, visitors not only could borrow books but could also take books home to keep. Thanks to JetBlue’s Soar with Reading initiative, Central Library hosted a book vending machine outside of its Children’s Library Discovery Center, featuring new titles every two weeks.
The vending machine was full of brand-new children’s books, which customers could take home to build their own libraries. There were books for children ages 0-14, ranging from picture books to young adult titles, as well as titles for adults. Individuals were invited to take as many books as they would like.
JetBlue’s Icema Gibbs, Director of Corporate Social Responsibility, explained that the program gives kids the opportunity to let their imaginations soar while owning books themselves. She recalled reading a story as a child and later having the experience of reading the same book with her daughter–she wants everyone to have moments like that. She also described the pleasure of filling bookshelves with new books for her daughter and continuing to add to them. The Soar with Reading vending machine gave Queens Public Library customers the chance to do the same–and not only did customers respond enthusiastically to the opportunity, they set a new record for the program’s first five days.
In the first five days the vending machine was operational, approximately 4,000 books were given away, showing how much QPL customers love books and reading. The previous high for the same time period in past years in other locations was approximately 2,000 books. This record pace continued at the library throughout the summer, with JetBlue crewmember volunteers on hand to help customers use the vending machine. At JetBlue’s Soar with Reading locations throughout the five boroughs, children and families took home a total of 100,000 books.
JetBlue’s educational advisory board research has shown the program to be impactful. As Gibbs understands, children who are reading during the summer don’t experience the summer slide, the loss of learning progress that many children experience over the summer months. Summer reading also increases children’s vocabulary.
The machine was launched at a special storytime in July featuring local author David Erza Stein. Stein, the author and illustrator of 17 books, read three of his books, including Dinosaur Kisses, which was available from the vending machine and is available for check out at Queens Public Library. He also read Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise and Hush Little Bunny. The enthusiastic audience of children and parents enjoyed the storytime, lining up afterwards for autographs from the author and to select books from the vending machine. After storytime, children went to the Children’s Library Discovery Center to make a dinosaur craft.
JetBlue’s Executive Vice President for People Mike Elliott talked about the company’s desire to inspire. Several elected officials, including Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, and Assembly Member Alicia Hyndman, attended the kickoff event. Borough President Katz said that reading can take you anywhere, while Council Member Van Bramer told the crowd there is nothing more important than education and reading. Assembly Member Hyndman reminisced about coming to the Central Library most weekends as a child.