When Claudia Magana first volunteered with Access Books more than 20 years ago, she never envisioned that in the future, she would accept a $5,000 check from the Palisades Rotary for the nonprofit.
That check was presented at a June 20 Rotary luncheon at Modo Mio.
“I believe in the program,” said Magana, who is an elementary school librarian at Farmingdale, in East Los Angeles. “I see what it can do.”
Since Access Books was established in 1999 by Rebecca Constantino, more than 335 libraries have been refurbished and more than 2 million books have been donated to schools.
Constantino in a 2018 Voyage LA Story (“Meet Rebecca Constantino of Access Books”), wrote that Constantino was doing research when she came upon a librarian in an affluent school stacking boxes of almost new boxes in the hallway.
“I asked the librarian what she was doing with the books,” says Constantino, “She said, ‘Well, we just don’t have room. I’m throwing them away.’ I said, ‘Really? Can I have them?’ She said, ‘Sure.’”
So, Constantino packed up all the books and drove them to an elementary school in Compton, where a school library couldn’t afford new books. It was the start of the nonprofit.
Access books volunteers believe that literacy is the highest predictor of success. But unfortunately, for more than 30 years, California has remained in last place in the nation for school library funding.
“For children living in poverty, the best predictor of reading achievement is the quality of the school library,” Magana said.
If there aren’t good school libraries, what about public libraries? For many kids living in underserved areas, there is an issue of getting them to the public library, the areas are not always safe, there isn’t always transportation and the libraries have limited hours, meaning kids with working parents can’t access the library while its open.
A Compton School library was recently rebuilt, complete with colorful murals on the walls. “It was built from scratch,” Magana said. Some of the books found in that library as it was being redone had been there since the school was founded.
“About 90 cents of every dollar donated to Access goes directly for the purchase of books and special programs,” Magana said, adding that volunteers like herself make sure the money goes directly for the students.
When a library is rebuilt, members of the community are involved and teachers and administrators are asked to participate, too. Those students working are generally given a book.
Former Lutheran Pastor Dick Meyer remembers when the Rotary helped build a library at Weigand Elementary (near Watts Tower) in 2018. “A little girl was hugging a book that had been given to her,” Meyer said. “She told me I’ll take good care of it before I return it.” He said, “I told her she got to keep it. She said, ‘I’ve never had a book before.’”
“Gently-used children’s books are always welcomed,” Magana said and noted that those books will go to children who cannot afford to buy books or go to kids who have never been to a bookstore.
Magana said they do accept donations and they should be books that are appropriate for children in grades K-5. Books should be in good condition, and they do not accept encyclopedias, reference books or high school or adult books – and no library discards.
Magana said that after the Compton School library was completed, one student said, “This is the coolest place in the school.”
(Visit: accessbooks.net or you can call Magana (909) 488-1788.)