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Libraries Without Borders - USA
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WALI in the Age of COVID-19
In 2016, Libraries Without Borders created the Wash and Learn Initiative (WALI) to provide low-income families and other members of the community with access to information, education and culture.
Through these programs, we transformed laundromats across the U.S. into resource centers where librarians, community-based organizations, and volunteers could promote literacy, learning, and engagement.
In 2019, the Wash and Learn Initiative reached new heights. Building on our pilot programs in the Bronx and Detroit, we expanded WALI to San Antonio, Baltimore, and Oakland. To date, these programs have brought storytime, ESL classes, financial literacy resources, free tax prep, and employment support to communities in eight states.
WALI in 2020: Impact of COVID-19
COVID-19 has upended life as we know it.
Although laundromats are considered essential services and remain open, LWB has made the difficult decision to close WALI spaces inside laundromats as an extra precaution to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
What does this mean for Libraries Without Borders and the Wash and Learn Initiative? If our focus is bringing technology to the people who need it most, how can we achieve this in a time of social distancing?
We must re-imagine. People in these communities still need access to the Internet and digital devices. Without this access, children cannot participate in online learning, adults cannot apply for unemployment benefits or small business loans, and communities cannot stay up-to-date on the latest COVID-19 health information.
Re-imagining is not a new concept to Libraries Without Borders.
Originally founded to provide books for communities in need and build the capacity of librarians in under-resourced countries, Libraries Without Borders underwent a crucial re-imagining following the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010. Haiti’s need for sustainable recovery and LWB’s innate desire for community building led to a new focus on humanitarian emergency response.
During this time, LWB recognized that
relief goes beyond basic needs and that providing educational tools is necessary to effectively help communities.
We transformed our mission to foster informal learning and imagination through mobile multimedia centers and pop-up libraries in the areas that need it most. By doing so, we are providing them with the tools they need for long-term capacity building and sustainable recovery.
WALI in Response
Building upon LWB’s disaster response efforts, we will continue to serve vulnerable communities adversely impacted by the coronavirus.
While we may not be able to gather in the manner that our WALI program was built upon, by re-imagining how we expand access to information, digital tools, and internet connectivity we will continue this humanitarian emergency response.
Given that laundromats remain open and people are able to access them, we aim to achieve the following:
Ensuring cleaning of the tech before and after use in our WALI sites
Evaluating and changing our spaces to ensure social distancing and prevent large social gatherings
Exploring ways to provide reliable and vital health information and updates at our WALI sites
Extending Wi-Fi at the laundromats so people can use the internet from the safety of their own car
In the unfortunate circumstance that laundromats are forced to close their doors, we are also working to provide families with Internet and digital devices at-home through our
COVID-19 Classy Campaign
Money raised through this campaign will give us the capacity to distribute hotspots, computers, and tech-kits to other communities in need of assistance.
For more information on our rapid response effort,
read our newsletter.
Laundromats in response
Our WALI partner laundromats are doing their part to assist one of the most vulnerable groups impacted by COVID-19.
in Oakland, CA and
in Baltimore, MD are providing free in-person and delivery laundry service to senior citizens during the shelter in place. In fact, in just its first week, Family Laundry provided 29 senior citizens with access to free laundry.