Most people put their books on a shelf, maybe a few libraries if they are particularly bibliophiles. Livy Ciotoli stored her books in a warehouse.
Eventually, she moved her books to her business, the Black Cat Market, a cat cafe that recently moved from Lawrenceville to Garfield. Today, Ciotoli is relaunching Livy’s Library, a program she created to help distribute these books to children 16 and under through a free monthly subscription service, with withdrawals available at the cafe. And the children can keep the books they receive.
“Literacy for children, especially at a young age, is crucial for the rest of their lives,” says Ciotoli. “So sort of I’m just trying to bridge that gap a little bit. You know, public libraries are obviously an option, but not everyone can access them. It’s also nice to have your own book to keep forever.
While this incarnation of Livy’s Library is new, with the Twitter page first sharing the link to sign up on May 1, this isn’t the first time that Ciotoli has hosted a literature accessibility project for children. Its first iteration started in 2017 and was inspired by Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which gives kids new free books until their fifth birthday.
At the time, Imagination Library did not have a partnership in Pittsburgh, so Ciotoli took charge “to fill the void”. She mainly bought lightly used books from thrift stores and mailed them to children in the area. At the height of the program, she was shipping around 200 pounds a month, a process that relied on monetary donations and ultimately Ciotoli’s money.
“If you go to a thrift store, they’re just full of lightly used books. People always try to find places for them because children grow up very quickly, ”explains Ciotoli. “I was almost like a program to recycle people’s used books. ”
After about two years, Ciotoli ended the program. She cites shipping costs as well as the time and energy it takes to open up the black cat market, which has taken her away from her focus on distributing books. Additionally, when people weren’t sure how to spread COVID-19, Ciotoli didn’t want anyone to feel in danger with their monthly book deliveries.
Now Livy’s library comes to life.
“I felt like it was time for this,” Ciotoli says. This time around, she gets many of her books from individual donations as well as from libraries. It is posted in Facebook groups and on Twitter, encouraging people to drop off their book donations at the Black Cat Market.
“I think people during COVID are kind of going a little crazy,” Ciotoli says. “So they were going through their stuff and maybe trying to reduce their book collection. ”
Ciotoli currently has around twenty people registered for this tour of the Livy library. She hopes to work with local schools to distribute books as she did several years ago when she worked with Young Scholars of McKeesport Charter School, as this will enable her to provide books to more children and d ‘adolescents using schools as distribution centers.
“There’s almost a bit of shame in asking for help sometimes, or guilt. And I think with everything that’s going on with the pandemic, it’s kind of upset, ”Ciotoli says. “There is absolutely no shame in asking for things you need. And there are so many people ready to help.
Although she only distributes books to children 16 and under, she encourages people to bring any type of book to the store as she donates any books that are not suitable for the library to Book ‘ Em, a program providing books to incarcerated people. She also maintains a free “take a book, leave a book” library at the Black Cat Market, which has no age limit for using it.
For books that match the library’s age range, Ciotoli separates them based on reading level, from hardback books, picture books and first level readers for children up to 9 years old to books from the first chapter, to intermediate-level books and novels for young adults. for older children and adolescents.
Ciotoli tends to receive more donations of young adult books than the other categories. In the past, she received so many donations from young adults that she occasionally sent two books to teenagers per month. However, she often struggles to acquire books for young readers, despite the most popular age categories.
“Hardback books are so hard because babies, you know, they chew on them, they really like to beat them,” Ciotoli says. “So people usually just throw them away. ”
People can donate by dropping off lightly used books at the store, filling out a form on the library’s website for door-to-door collection, or purchasing a book from the library’s Amazon Wish List. All of the books on the wishlist cost $ 10 or less to help keep donations affordable.
The Livy library. livyslibrary.weebly.com