Chelsea Clinton is helping spearhead the initiative and plans to visit Wash Time Laundromat, 4748 W. Fullerton, at 9:45 a.m. Wednesday to lead a storytime session after she unveils the laundromat’s new educational space, which will include books, a play area and developmentally driven toys.
Amid the muffled churn of the washers and the humming of dryers, anywhere between a handful to more than a dozen children hear stories, sing songs and play games designed to help their brains develop. The event also aims to tacitly instruct parents on how to repeat the experience for their kids, working to reverse poor literacy rates in underserved communities.
“One thing that makes laundromats so unique is that you have a captive audience,” Adam Echelman of Libraries Without Borders told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette when a laundromat program was hosted in the city last June. "We’re meeting families where they are. Instead of asking you to come to the library, we’re bringing these opportunities directly to you.”
"Oftentimes, these laundromat locations are also sort of in a book desert type area and if you look at it, statistically, the families that are patronizing the laundromats there's a very low ownership rate for books, particularly kids books," said Brian Wallace from the Laundry Cares Foundation.
“Book deserts” are often in low-income areas, where access to books is limited and literacy rates are below average.
The national nonprofit Libraries Without Borders promotes literacy to low-income neighborhoods through pop-up bookshelves at places like bus stops, subway stations and public parks. But one pop-up gained a lot more traction than the rest. Why? It was next to a laundromat.
The Chicago Public Libraries continues to hold regular storytimes at laundromats across Chicago. And, she says, the librarians who participate continue to see rewards. “Families are now changing their behavior, showing up to do their laundry when the library is going to be there,” she reports. “One little boy just recently said: ‘Let’s do laundry every day, Mom!’”