Residents of Ramona Gardens at the unveiling of the Little Free Library.

Jean Chadwick remembers how she learned that reading could be fun. She was once a homeless teenager whose adoptive father gave her a copy of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”

“And he said: ‘Read,’” recalls Chadwick, a volunteer with The Literacy Club in Los Angeles. “I never realized that you could read for fun, so I opened that book and started to imagine and envision all those characters. I was so blown away by the fact that reading really can take you away from your circumstances and broaden your horizons.”

Chadwick hopes a new lending library may well do that for young children living in one of the city’s most isolated public housing developments. She is a part of a group of volunteers who recently inaugurated the Ramona Gardens Little Free Library, the result of a partnership of the University of Southern California Department of Public Safety (DPS) and the Hollenbeck Division of the Los Angeles Police Department, along with the Housing Authority of Los Angeles and The Literacy Club.

Part of an international registry that operates under the motto of “Take a Book, Return a Book,” the small portable bookcase is aimed at making reading fun and accessible for residents of Ramona Gardens.

“I wanted to make sure that they have unlimited books for an unlimited amount of time,” said DPS Community Relations Officer Elizabeth Carreño, who graduated from Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights. Borrowers are asked to return books after they’ve read them so that others can read them, too.

Besides a Little Free Library inside the Ramona Gardens gym, a smaller version was installed outdoors in the playground. Both contain donated books in English, but Carreño said she is open to expanding to Spanish-language books. “We are committed to having them fully stocked,” said Carreño.

The two new mini libraries at Ramona Gardens are the fourth and fifth overseen by the DPS, which also installed indoor and outdoor bookshelves at the University Gardens private housing complex near USC. Donations of  books, including some used ones, help keep the lending libraries stocked.

“One of the ways that we can help achieve the university’s mission is by ensuring that kids understand that literacy is important,” said CPS Chief John Thomas. “We couldn’t think of a better way for the community to become more engaged, not only with the university, but also the DPS and the LAPD.”

“There is no better way for us to build relationships in the community than to provide kids with books, so that they can become literate, functional, and be contributors in a positive way to society,” echoed LAPD Assistant Chief Jorge A. Villegas, whose department patrols Ramona Gardens.

The Ramona Gardens Little Free Library is not just for kids. The top shelf of the indoor case is reserved for books for adults.

Seeing these small lending libraries pop up in marginalized communities is a personal mission for Jean Chadwick and her husband, Douglas, who has built over 20 of the actual bookcases. Each Little Free Library has an individual design; the one he created for Ramona Gardens is inspired by  Dr. Seuss’ book, “Oh, The Places You’ll Go.”

Chadwick said the goal of The Literacy Club is to close the gap for Angelenos who live far away from libraries and cannot afford to buy books.

“We believe we can optimize the future of the next generation by ensuring that we remove the book desert,” she said. “If you put books in front and available for free to our communities, you start to reduce that desert.”

To learn more about Little Free Libraries you can visit  To donate a book, contact Carreño, at (213) 422-0450.    

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Antonio Mejías-Rentas

Antonio Mejías-Rentas is a Senior Editor at Boyle Heights Beat, where he mentors teenage journalists, manages the organization’s website and covers local issues. A veteran bilingual journalist, he's...

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