DPS hosts opening of Little Free Library

The Dept. of Public Safety hosted the grand opening of a Little Free Library in the University Gardens Housing development on Saturday near the intersection of Jefferson Boulevard and Vermont Avenue.

A program that began as a stationary bookcase that a Wisconsin man built to memorialize his former schoolteacher-mother has led to the creation of more than 15,000 Little Free Libraries around the world. With its tagline, “take a book, return a book,” the program aims to promote literacy and education, especially in low-income and rural areas. The Little Free Library, installed near the University Park campus on Saturday, is the first one in the neighborhood.

Jean and Doug Chadwick, long-time volunteers for A Chance for Children, have been establishing libraries in Los Angeles and  Ohio, particularly in police stations.

“One thing we could accomplish with this was the opportunity to promote literacy by providing books that are free to kids who potentially don’t have access to books,” Jean said. “Secondly, we can start to change the dynamic in the police stations. Lots of these stations handle child custody handoffs so you have very stressful situations and adults who don’t behave well. These kids would come in and be crying. But now they can come, turn a corner, and sit in the library while their parents do whatever.”

A handyman of sorts, Doug has hand-built more than 20 bookcases, including the two in University Gardens. One is a stationary box erected on pole, and the other is a larger bookcase that has wheels. Both are Dr. Seuss-themed. All the libraries the Chadwicks have built are registered with the national Little Free Libraries organization so each has a plaque and shows up on the global directory should anyone want to locate them.

DPS Chief John Thomas, a former LAPD officer, caught wind of the program when several were placed in LAPD station lobbies. He was also inspired by a boy named Muhanned, whom he met while patrolling University Gardens, when Muhanned asked for books for his birthday.

“I thought it was a shame that you’ve got kids asking for books when right across the street is one of the greatest American universities,” Thomas said. “Either these kids can aspire to go to USC or look at USC as an unattainable dream.”

Consequently, Thomas made sure that the library opening coincided with Muhanned’s birthday.

Thomas emphasized the fact that DPS not only patrols to keep USC students safe, but also to protect residents who live in the surrounding community.

“That’s how you get safe neighborhoods. It’s not by putting people in jail; it’s by making people aware of their neighbors and getting to know the police that work for their neighborhood. There’s a lot to the safety aspect that involves community relationships,” he said.

He added that there will be various involvement opportunities for USC students, such as tutoring and reading books to local children.

Thomas attributed much of the installment of the library to DPS Community Relations Officer Elizabeth Carreño, who took the initiative to make it a reality by contacting and partnering with A Chance for Children, as well as the Water Buffalo Club. The Water Buffalo Club is nonprofit philanthropic organization in Los Angeles that funds various projects, such as these libraries. The executive director, Shelly Wood, attended the event.

“We have funded 12 Little Free Libraries. And we really do anything that has to do with children. Plus, a lot of our Water Buffalo members are Trojan alumni so we’d love to stay involved,” Wood said.

The library opening was attended by many local kids through the literary program, Kinder2College. The event kicked off with face-painting and balloon-twisting. Donning a Dr. Seuss hat, Thomas gave an introductory speech and, after passing out lunch, read Dr. Seuss books to the children in attendance. Thomas also asked Muhanned to take the stage where the boy received a book about frogs that he had wanted, and a chorus of “Happy Birthday” from the crowd.