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University of Chicago Helps Elementary Students Build Home Libraries

My Very Own Library program to provide free books to students in U.S. cities and Dominican Republic


The University of Chicago is helping thousands of students kick start their home libraries this year by partnering with schools, nonprofit organizations, and Scholastic Book Fairs,  to provide half a million free books through the UChicago My Very Own Library literacy program.

In U.S. cities and the Dominican Republic, students in pre-K through eighth grade will select books at their schools’ Scholastic Book Fairs, the exclusive book fair and book supply partner to the UChicago My Very Own Library program, allowing the children to take the lead in curating their own home libraries. Each student will bring home 10 books of their choice every year; because all students in a school participate, the children will work together to build a strong reading community. 

Studies show programs that distribute books to children to foster book ownership help improve students’ reading performance, writing performance, attitudes toward reading, and general academic performance. 

“UChicago My Very Own Library provides vital and direct support for children to advance reading skills, while building a lifelong personal connection with books. The University of Chicago is proud to have the opportunity to foster and advance this important program,” said Robert J. Zimmer, president of the University of Chicago. 

“Books have the power to open up a world of wonder, develop vocabulary skills and help students spark their creativity and imagination,” said Chicago Public Schools CEO Dr. Janice K. Jackson. “We are thankful for this critical partnership with the University of Chicago, which will provide our students with more opportunities to harness the transformative power of a good book.” 

This year, the University of Chicago assumed the leadership of My Very Own Library, which partners with nonprofit organizations in Chicago; Newark; Milwaukee; Kansas City, Missouri; Richmond, California; Delaware; and the Dominican Republic to implement the program through Scholastic Book Fairs. At the completion of the program participating students will have received a total of 100 books from pre-K through eighth grade. UChicago My Very Own Library provides participating schools with support to host engaging family literacy events, and inspiring visits with a diverse panel of nationally recognized or locally affiliated children’s authors and illustrators.

As part of UChicago My Very Own Library, researchers with the University’s School of Social Service Administration will study the program’s impact on educational outcomes and will provide findings and suggestions for improvements for the following year. The University’s Office of Civic Engagement Neighborhood Schools Program will play an important role by aligning University undergraduate students with volunteer literacy support roles at participating schools in Chicago.

My Very Own Library was introduced to Chicago in 2015 via the UChicago Charter School. The results were so successful that the University brought the program to several other South Side schools, including Beasley Elementary Magnet Academic Center, Beethoven Elementary School and South Shore Fine Arts Academy. For the current school year, 17 Chicago public schools are participating in the program. By the end of the school year, the program will have given 234,000 books and donated over $1.2 million to support literacy efforts for Chicago students. 

Scholastic Book Fairs is a division of Scholastic, the global children’s publishing, education, and media company. The Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report: 7th Edition shows that the majority of kids ages 6–17 agree their favorite books are ones that they have picked out themselves. 

“Giving books to young children not only sparks a love of reading in students, but studies show that it can lead to better academic and social emotional outcomes,” said UChicago’s Duane Davis, the Chicago Director of My Very Own Library. “One of the easiest ways to help a young child – no matter their income level – is to gift them the right books for their age.”

My Very Own Library was founded in 2011. It was designed to foster a lifelong love of learning in children while also helping them to own and take pride in their home library collection. The program has served more than 50,000 students and distributed more than 2 million books since its inception.

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