‘Reading in color’: Little free libraries appear in Portland

Multnomah County

Retired librarian uses stimulus check to highlight BIPOC stories

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A local retired librarian is using her stimulus check to bring about big change … in a ‘little’ way. ” Chris Gustafson and her husband began purchasing books to help develop and fill ‘little free libraries’ in and around their Brentwood Darlington neighborhood.

However, Gustafson has been intentional about which titles they are purchasing. “I thought, ‘what would make me really happy?'” Gustafson recalled. “And I thought it would be to buy books by people of color, and about people of color from a Black-owned bookstore and share them with these ‘little free libraries.'”

Gustafson has made it her mission to purchase books written by BIPOC authors, highlighting stories of color to get new and inclusive books in the hands of her community.

“A symptom of something that’s not right, that we want to make better is that kids don’t have books that are by people who have had their own lived experience or that are about people that have their own lived experience.”

Gustafson hopes that ‘symptom’ may be solved by getting more diverse books out there.

“But I wanted also, to have a part of my project address the system of injustice that creates that lack of books that are ‘just right for kids.’ That’s why I wanted to do the purchasing through Third Eye and make sure Black-owned businesses were benefitting from this project as well.”

Third Eye Books Accessories & Gifts, Oregon’s only Black-owned bookstore has been the primary source for Gustafson’s titles. Owners Charles Hannah and Michelle Lewis, believe the ‘little free library’ project is helping shed light on the larger issue of accessibility.

“One thing that separates all folks is the amount words they have to use,” Hannah explained.  “That crosses all colors. So, it’s very important that Black and brown children have as many words as possible in print!”

The company prides itself on their large selection of BIPOC authored books, but Lewis said the lack of diverse literature in the region as whole is a huge problem.

“Here in Oregon, the number of Black and Brown books is very small… We should have those books readily available anywhere.” Lewis said these stories are important “for our children to see books that are a reflection of them and speaks truth to their history. As a people, have contributed to society in many great ways … books speak to that.” 

Hannah and Lewis are proud to partner with Gustafson on her ‘little library project,’ filling multiple orders for her and donating a couple books to her cause. Hannah says they will continue to meet the desperate need for BIPOC literature in their community.

“There are how many dispensaries? How many grocery stores, liquor stores? … and we only have one black bookstore. I want to change that.”

Bonded by a common goal, Gustafson hopes the books purchased from Third Eye Books Accessories & Gifts will make their way into the right hands and possibly open up young minds.

“I’m hoping kids will pick them up and say ‘I haven’t seen myself in a book before. This author understands who I am,'” said Gustafson. “I’m also hoping that every child will pick up a book and say, ‘Wow that taught me something new, that’s a window into a world I didn’t know about!'” As a retired librarian, Gustafson told KOIN 6 News she truly believes reading has the possibility to change the world.

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