Before clients of Hanna’s Pantry shop for peanut butter and Special K, they encounter the book cart. Some sit and read while waiting for their turn. Others pick a book to take home.
Hanna’s Pantry offers one of more than 30 Community Collections mini-libraries throughout Dauphin County. In partnership with various services and businesses, Dauphin County Library System, known as The Library, operates Community Collections to break through library walls and expand access to books.
Books in hands
Now about 10 years old, Community Collections keeps growing. Sites include health care facilities, senior and teen centers, human services and municipal offices, cafes and soup kitchens, women’s shelters, Dauphin County Prison, a laundromat, and a brewpub.
Community Collections books are donated by the public or culled from library collections – perhaps gently worn, or overstocked from their high-demand initial release days. Patrons may take books and then return them, keep them, or pass them on.
“The library wants people to read,” says The Library Executive Director. “We want them to access our books. If someone wants a book but can’t get to the library, Community Collections puts books in their hands – with no late fees for not returning it.”
Within Susquehanna Township School District, the Hanna Education Foundation called on Community Collections when it relaunched an existing food pantry as Hanna’s Pantry in September 2019.
“The library wants to be where the community is,” says Susan Anthony, who brokered the connection from her seats as secretary to the boards of The LIbrary and the Hanna Foundation. “The interesting part for us was saying that we want the collection to reflect the community that we’re serving.”
From a barn-themed pantry in a school district warehouse, Hanna’s Pantry clients can choose from about 50 books curated by library staff. Adults appreciate mysteries, romances, and biographies. Children can choose books in Spanish or English, featuring kids of different backgrounds and ethnicities.
“Kids look at the cover of the book,” says Anthony. “If the people on the cover look like them, they want the book.”
Participating services often learn about the program through involvement in other library initiatives, or library staff reach out to organizations whose patrons might benefit.
“Community Collections is all about accessibility,” says Cullings. “We put books where people naturally gather.”