The enclosed porch behind Rachel Perveiler’s Little Village apartment is crammed with shelves stuffed with books and games. It’s also filled with children from her neighborhood.
Perveiler’s porch is the meeting place for “La Biblioteca del Personas,” or the People’s Library. Meeting here has become a weekly ritual for Perveiler and the children in her neighborhood.
“Okay boys, are you turning in books?” Perveiler asked brothers Joaquin and Jose Camacho.
“I want to still keep this one, but I’m returning this one back.” Joaquin said.
“Okay, go ahead, put it back,” Perveiler said.
As the children looked through the shelves, pulling out books, Perveiler asked 9-year old Jaylene Rios what she thought of her most recent selection.
“Did you like Charlotte’s Web, or no?” Perveiler asked.
“Oh yeah. I’m barely right there,” Jaylene said, as she pointed to a place toward the beginning of the book.
“The first chapter? Okay, so you liked it?” Perveiler asked.
“Yeah,” Jaylene said.
Since the library began two years ago, the teacher said she’s watched the kids develop what she hopes will become a life-long reading habit, and she’s seen their reading skills improve.
She points to Jaylene, who started with Frog and Toad are Friends and has now moved on to Charlotte’s Web.
“I’ve seen their interests grow,” Perveiler said. Rather than just coming over because I’m here and I’m a new person, they come over actually to check out books, and they want to get a new book or they want to get a book that they know their friend just read.”
The library began when the 23-year-old moved to Little Village back in 2011 to be close to her first job as a special education teacher at nearby Finkl Academy.
Perveiler was moving into her apartment when some of the neighbor kids saw her carrying boxes.
“They offered to help carry the boxes in. When they found out they were children’s books, they were curious to see why [I had] all these children’s books,” Perveiler said.
The books were for her classroom, but since it was still summer, the kids asked if they could borrow them. They sat on her porch, read the books and returned them the same afternoon.
Word about the books soon spread in the neighborhood, and the children began coming to Perveiler’s regularly. As the library evolved, the group members decided they needed to have some rules and expectations for members. They even developed a pledge, which greets visitors as they enter the library.
Joaquin Camacho, 9, read the hand-lettered poster out loud.
“As a member of the library, I pledge to be a role model. I promise to [show] respect and responsibility,” Joaquin said. “I promise these in the name of leadership, because the world needs leaders.”
Before they can use the library, kids must also complete a special task. Each new member makes a bookmark to take home. After a week, they have to bring it back to Perveiler in good shape to prove they’re responsible. If it’s ruined, they have to do it again before they can check out a book.
Today, the library has around 500 books, mostly donations from friends and family. But, as Joaquin said, not all of the books come from outside sources.
“My brother, Jose, and I are going to make a comic book, The Adventures of Big Fist and Lightning Man,” Joaquin said. “We’re going to put it in the library with the other comics.”
The library doesn’t just have books for children: Leslie Luna, 9, said her father uses the library to improve his English.
“He talks Spanish, and so he’s practicing his English,” Leslie said. “When he was in Mexico he almost dropped out of school, because he needed to work for his family, so he didn’t get to do a lot of education in his life.”
Leslie said she chooses books for the two of them to read together. “I like to help him, a lot,” she said.
When Perveiler isn’t available at the makeshift library, her boyfriend, Michael Aumiller, helps fill in. He said he’s also the unofficial homework helper.
“They have limited access to internet and that sort of thing, so they like to borrow my encyclopedias. I’ll flag things down that are important,” Aumiller said.
Aumiller said in neighborhoods facing challenges like Little Village, it’s important to have an involved
network of neighbors.
“Since the library started, I’ve noticed we just have a greater sense of connection to the community,” he said. “I just think that is something that is very important to the overall health of Drake Avenue.”
As for Perveiler, she hopes that sense of community spreads to the kids, along with improved literacy skills.
“I would like to see their interest in reading and their interest in each other socially, as friendships in their community, continue to grow,” Perveiler said. “If the space remains on the back porch always, that is perfectly fine with me.”
Rebecca Kruth is a WBEZ Arts and Culture Desk intern. Follow her @rjkruth.