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Free library in Des Moines prioritizes diverse authors, stories

A free library in the River Bend area was created to showcase books written by people of color or books featuring positive stories of people of color.

DES MOINES, Iowa — The River Bend neighborhood in Des Moines is now home to a new free library, one filled with books written by Black, Indigenous and other people of color (BIPOC) and telling stories about BIPOC. 

The idea for the free library was thought of by co-founders of the Out of the Box Initiative Jake Sahr and Pascha Morgan. 

"I would definitely say it was a labor of love," Morgan said.

Sahr and Morgan are friends who met just two years ago. They wanted to create the library to give people in the River Bend neighborhood, particularly children, a chance to read positive, honest stories about themselves. 

"We want to present people's history and honor the history of people and show them the knowledge of themselves," Sahr said. 

The library is named after Harriet Curley, the first Black school teacher hired by the Des Moines Public School District.

Books in the free library range from youth to adults. The hope for the library is to get more children interested in reading. 

"It changes how they approach reading because now it's not reading to read, it's reading to get information, knowledge about something you're passionate about," Morgan said.

Sue Woody, director of Des Moines Public Libraries, said that space can be the first step in helping improve the literacy rates in Black and brown communities, especially in pivotal grades like third grade.

According to 2021 data from Iowa Statewide Assessment of Student Progress, Black and brown students in third grade were less proficient in reading compared to their white classmates. 

Woody believes that students having access to the free library and seeing themselves in the books they're reading can help change the statistics in the statewide assessment.

 "Every child needs to see themselves to identify with a story, to make them more interested in it," Woody said.

The structure that holds the books includes murals and other artwork, some done by kids in the area. 

It also includes affirmations that the founders hope people who visit the library appreciate.

The structure is located at the corner of Forest Ave & 13th St in Des Moines and is opens 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Hours may vary. 

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