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Madison Reading Project

Madison Reading Project

A shared mission for even greater impact
Madison Reading Project and Madison Public Library

Natalie from Madison Reading Project picks up books for home delivery from Goodman South Madison Library in the Big Red Bus 

There has to be a better way!

In late August of 2019 on one of the hottest days of the year, Tammy Ocampo, Youth Services Manager at Madison Public Library and Youth Services Library Assistant, Jennifer Libert, were hauling box after box of books through the back hallways of the Central library and loading them into Tammy’s small car - visibly sagging under the weight of the thousand books stacked inside. 

Tammy was headed to the 100 Black Men Back to School Celebration where the library was giving away a new book to each child to start the year. After the 3rd trip out to the car, and dripping with sweat, all Tammy could think was, “there has to be a better way!” 

The library is in the “book business,” so it might seem like an easy lift for librarians to facilitate book giveaways for kids. However, the added logistics and labor of ordering, receiving, organizing, labeling, hauling and distributing free books to kids on top of the day-to-day business of the library was putting strain on the Youth Services team.

Fortunately, all that was about to change. That day, at the 100 Black Men Back to School Celebration, Madison Public Library just happened to be tabling next to the Madison Reading Project, who was also giving away books.

MRP library card

Madison Reading Project Operations Director Deirdre and Program Manager Natalie modeling the Madison Public Library Card. 

Streamlining our Services

Giving away books to kids and educators is the mission of the Madison Reading Project. Their amazing team has connections for sourcing great titles and an entire infrastructure for getting great books into kids’ hands - not to mention a BIG RED BUS full of shelves that kids can hop on and pick from a huge number of titles. (A much better solution than Tammy’s hatchback!) 

A new partnership began to blossom! Tammy met with the Madison Reading Project’s Program & Operational Director, Deirdre Steinmetz. “We recognized right away that we had similar goals and that we were already interacting with many of the same community partners. We just knew that if we combined our energy and resources, we could have an even greater reach and more impactful outcomes,” Tammy reflected. 

By strategically connecting the library and Madison Reading Project’s funding, partnerships, resources and expertise, both organizations have been able to expand and grow their offerings in innovative, but also more sustainable ways. 

Our library team was STRETCHED coordinating and facilitating book giveaways with community sites - for instance, then-Pinney Librarian Holly Stork-Post orchestrated giveaways at 7 individual sites in the summer of 2019  - multiply that by 9 youth services librarians across the city and it’s a LOT. On top of supporting thousands of books for the 100 Black Men Back To School bash and MMSD's READ UP program in each summer school site -  it just wasn’t sustainable for the team. 

early childhood educators browse books

MMSD 4K teachers browse books from Madison Public Library & Madison Reading Project 

Expanding our Impact

Flash forward to 2022 - working in partnership with Madison Reading Project, the library has been able to give out books consistently to Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) and Madison School & Community Recreation (MSCR) summer school students at all elementary and middle school sites - 4,380 this year! We were also able to do monthly giveaways to 12 Neighborhood & Community Centers, as well as give out 1,200 books to 4k classrooms to start the school year. 

With the added capacity, we were also able to take on new large-scale events like the Hmong New Year and Parks Alive, while still supporting previous events like the 100 Black Men Picnic. Madison Public Library also partnered with new partners like the Reach Dane Giving Tree, providing high quality bilingual texts.  

2022 also saw Madison Reading Project pilot their My First Pages program, which provides 10 books a year for 5 years to 1,000 kids in Dane County. With books already covered, Madison Public Library has supplemented each giveaway with an age-appropriate maker kit, a baby song book, or additional library resources for families. 

Kids tinker with Mini maker kits

Madison Reading Project distributed over 6,000 mini maker kits designed and provided by Madison Public Library with books in 2022. 

During the pandemic, Madison Public Library started a home delivery service to in-home childcare providers - checking out a box of high quality picture books each month to providers in the Satellite Family Child Care program. It was a huge hit, but the logistics of delivery kept us from expanding. Again - that amazing Big Red Bus came to the rescue! With a flexible schedule and programming all over the city, Madison Reading Project has seamlessly been able to incorporate delivery to 20+ child care programs each month, picking up materials selected and checked out by library staff at Goodman South, Pinney, and Central libraries. Read more about these special book deliveries.

With open communication and a trusting partnership, the opportunities for collaboration just keep popping up. Already in 2023, Madison Public Library, Madison Reading Project and MSCR are partnering to provide book fair like experiences for 10 Madison elementary schools, letting each child and teacher who may not have the opportunity otherwise choose a special book for free. And we cannot wait for the annual Black Girl Magic conference in May, where each of the 600+ expected participants will be able to choose two books as a part of their experience. 

We Read at Madison Public Library is about reading what YOU want to read. It’s about putting high quality books into our patrons hands and celebrating the joy of reading. Whether it’s a free high quality book to take home, or access to library resources (Madison Reading Project also distributed 1,700 library card applications last year!), this partnership is We Read at its best.

In her year in review to us, Deirdre concluded, “WOW!!!!  We're very proud of these collaborations and love all the work we've accomplished together.” 

WOW!!!! Indeed. We couldn’t be more amazed at where our combined efforts and shared passion have taken us. We look forward to many more years of this impactful partnership!


Rebecca Millerjohn
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