Former elementary school teacher and healthcare non-profit education manager Lauren Erbach Barnfield is on a mission to bring diverse children's books to her Norridge neighborhoodwith a Diverse Little Free Library located in her family's front yard.
This free library is similar to others. However, Erbach Barnfield said she is "intentionally stocking it with books that feature diverse charactersBIPOC, women, LGBTQI individuals and disabled individualsm [as well as books] authored by those individuals."
Erbach Barnfield added that, like the other free libraries, people can take and/or leave booksbut she indicated that those who leave books should adhere to her mission of creating a space for diverse stories.
The inspiration for this library stemmed from Erbach Barnfield's stated desire to create a better world. She said that, growing up in a very white Chicago suburb, she was surrounded by people who looked like her.
Moving to Chicago in 2012 changed her view of the world because she experienced diversity for the first time. Erbach Barnfield said she knows she has immense privilege because she is a white cisgender heterosexual woman.
"To say it opened my eyes, changed my heart and guided my passions is an understatement," said Erbach Barnfield.
There were a lot of little moments that led to Erbach Barnfield's awakening, including joining Ravenwood's All Saints Episcopal Church, which was led by lesbian rector, Rev. Dr. Bonnie Perry. ( Editor's note: Perry was recently ordained as the 11th bishop of the Episcopal diocese of Michigan. )
"At church, I was surrounded by really smart activists, people who were queer, people of color and I learned to use my voice to improve the lives of others," said Erbach Barnfield. "I have always given back to my community, but I did not become an activist until I moved to the city. I learned to protest for the first time. I marched for Black Lives Matter and in Chicago's Pride Parade with my Episcopal church. I traveled to Springfield to advocate for gun reform because of the massacre that happened at the Pulse nightclub; I was horrified to see this senseless hate crime happen to so many LGBTQI people of color who were just trying to enjoy an evening out with their friends. My eyes have been opened to all the broken things in this country that need fixing."
Erbach Barnfield met her now-husband Mark Erbach Barnfield in 2015. By 2018, they were married and living in Andersonville in a third floor walk-up with their seven month-old daughter Alice and another baby, Teddy, on the way. This impending arrival was the catalyst for their move to Norridge.
"We wanted to stay close to parts of the city we knew and lovedAndersonville, Ravenswood and Lincoln Square, as well as our church community," said Erbach Barnfield. "We found a house we loved in a walkable neighborhood."
When they moved she noticed that, like her childhood suburb, the town is mostly white. She thought about what impact that would have on her children despite the fact that they were already exposing their children to diverse books and other media. This is how the Diverse Little Free Library was born.
"When Lauren gets an idea in her head there is no stopping her," said Mark Erbach Barnfield. "It is one of the things that impresses me the most about her. I am so proud of her dedication and commitment to making a difference with this library and her other endeavors."
"I believe strongly that building anti-racist, LGBTQI-inclusive foundations in children starts at a young age," said Erbach Barnfield. "Their home libraries should reflect the diversity they will see in the world. If their neighborhood is not diverse, I think it is even more important to get exposure to people who do not look like they do or have the same life experiences. Sometimes the littlest things can make the biggest difference."
Erbach Barnfield said she was inspired by Sarah Kamya, whom she found on Instagram. Kamya recently started her own Little Free Diverse Library in Arlington, Massachusetts. Both Erbach Barnfield and Kamya are intentionally focusing on children's books for their libraries.
"I think that the takeover of Little Free Diverse Libraries and the passion behind each person who sends a book, fills a library or builds their own library is incredible," said Kamya. "Black stories matter and it is important not only for white folk to educate themselves on Black culture and history, but for Black and Brown children to see themselves reflected and celebrated in the books they read. I am so proud of how much this has grown and the community effort that has allowed it to reach so many people including Lauren's library."
"I am inspired by Generation Z's activism and I want that kind of empathy, passion and activism to continue with my children's generation," said Erbach Barnfield. "It is my hope that this library will better equip them to be empathetic adults who work to make the world better than they found it. These are titles I read with my own children and want to share with others."
Among the titles that will be included in the library are Stella Brings the Family, Last Stop on Market Street, Sofia Valdez: Future Prez, Hair Love, Pink is for Boys, PRIDE: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag, Annie's Plaid Shirt, Julian is a Mermaid, Frida, Our Rainbow, Celebrate Your Body, Love Makes a Family, The Proudest Blue, Wonder, Just Ask!, The Hate U Give, A is for Awesome, Fry Bread and Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History.
To date, Erbach Barnfield has amassed more than 100 books and raised enough money to purchase a well-built library that will survive all weather conditions. She said it would be up and running Aug. 7. Her hope is that, through fundraising, she will be able to stock both her and other Little Free Libraries with diverse books for many years.
Erbach Barnfield said that going forward any funds raised to purchase books will be spent at the only Black women-owned bookstore in Chicago, Semicolon.
"Where we choose to spend our money sends a message about our values," said Erbach Barnfield. "If we really believe Black Lives Matter; we have to support Black-owned businesses like Semicolon. Also, they are an incredible bookstore."
To donate, visit gofundme.com/f/the-norridge-diverse-feminist-little-free-library. See instagram.com/littlefreediversenorridge/ and instagram.com/littlefreediverselibraries/ for more information .