Location and general information
Libraries Without Borders (Bibliothèques Sans Frontières - BSF) is a non-proﬁt organisation committed to increasing access to information for those in need by meeting people where they are—whether in a launderette in the Bronx or a refugee camp in Jordan. BSF-United States (BSF-US) partners with local organisations to transform launderettes, residential lobbies, parks and recreation centres into spaces for children’s education and community development. Internationally, BSF has worked in more than 30 countries, running innovative library programmes to serve refugees, remote villages and disaster relief zones since 2007.
The average launderette customer spends up to two and a half hours a week there. By meeting families where they are, when they are available, the Wash and Learn Initiative (WALI) makes literacy education accessible for low-income families who may not have the time or money to access other services. Now in eight states, WALI equips launderettes with computers, specialized software, Wi-Fi hotspots, books, specially designed furniture and other educational resources designed to create playful, literacy-rich spaces for young children and families. BSF-US works with libraries and local organisations to align their needs and interests with those of launderette customers. Together with its partners, BSF-US offers bilingual story times for children, workshops on nutrition or maternal health and games and activities to promote parent-child interactions. Researchers at New York University found that children engage in significantly more sustained literacy-related activities (compared to children at non-WALI launderettes) when a librarian is present in the launderette.
WALI San Antonio focuses specifically on the city’s low-income Hispanic migrants. One-third of the population in San Antonio is foreign-born, and as many as 100,000 are undocumented. Thanks to the support of Google Fiber and local organisations and libraries, BSF-US has piloted WALI in two launderettes in the city, delivering dynamic opportunities for early childhood education, digital literacy and community development.
With the support of the UEFA Foundation for Children, BSF-US is expanding WALI San Antonio to better support newly arrived migrants. Our goals include:
- Bringing knowledge and information to those who are most in need. Libraries are excellent places for both personal growth and collective development.
- Reaching people where they are. Librarians and early-childhood professionals offer in-person classes and opportunities at the launderette, making these services accessible for all.
- Ensuring equal access to information, which is important to achieve equity. WALI launderettes equip residents with technology and help to spread information about important issues like education, health, employment, citizenship, environment, sustainability and technology.
To reach this goal, the following activities are being undertaken:
- Expanding the Wash and Learn Initiative in San Antonio from two to four launderettes.
- Collaborating with local non-proﬁts and government agencies to add new services to existing literacy programmes. These new services will include immigration legal services, culturally relevant health information and English language education—all at the launderette.
- Collecting and disseminating a set of curricula and case-studies so that other non-proﬁts and public agencies can independently scale the work of WALI in San Antonio and across the US.
- Providing opportunities for parents to observe ideal models of interactive reading and language-rich activities.
From October 2019 to February 2020, the San Antonio Wash and Learn Initiative:
- Oversaw over 100 hours of programming from partners, ranging from story time to voter registration;
- Engaged with 252 people, from toddlers to seniors;
- Partnered with 6 different organisations to better serve the community;
- Delivered 29 library programmes, where library staff at the launderette helped participants download e-books, use their mobile devices and find online resources.
Looking forward, we aim to:
- Operate four WALI launderettes that serve as community-driven hubs for learning and digital equity.
- Provide over 300 hours of programming from partners who engage with over 1,000 people of all ages and backgrounds.
- Partner with a total of 10 different organisations to better serve the communities we are in, especially around issues of legal access and social support for newly arrived migrants.
- Support the Digital Inclusion Alliance of San Antonio and other digital literacy providers to meet people where they are, when they are available, and create a more equitable San Antonio.