Clay Middle School students seek to eliminate book deserts


Clay Middle School eighth-grader Mansi Singh has always been passionate about books.

“I’ve learned a lot from them, so I got upset that some kids don’t have the chance to do that since they don’t have as many books wherever they live,” Singh said.

Clay Middle School eighth-grader Mansi Singh and teacher Allison Martin display part of the book collection (Photo by Mark Ambrogi)

Singh and her classmates have been collecting books as part of Project LIT (Libraries In The) Community, a national movement to eliminate book deserts, areas where children have little access to libraries or book stores. Clay students have collected more than 1,500 books,  new and used, for Eastwood Middle School in Washington Township in Indianapolis. Eastwood students have helped with the collection.

Allison Martin, a Clay English teacher who started the drive with her students’ help, is thrilled with the number of books collected.

“People are sharing with our passion of helping other kids,” Martin said. “We would like to do a long-term partnership with (Eastwood). Our next step is figuring what we do with the books, whether we have lending libraries in areas of their district that need more access to books. Or another idea has been to do a free book fair where kids who we know who are in those areas that don’t have as many books can have vouchers come up pick up some for themselves and younger siblings.”

Through a connection through another Clay teacher, Martin reached out to the Eastwood media center specialist to form a partnership. Martin said although Eastwood’s school library is fantastic, the issue is when students are on a break or summer vacation and there isn’t that access to books in some part of the school’s area.

Martin said Clay and Eastwood have started a combined book club.

A school in a book desert area in Nashville, Tenn., started the Project LIT community in 2016.

Singh said Martin’s Honors English classes started collecting books and other students have pitched in.

“Mansi and others wrote letters to different people in the community who we thought could help us spread the word that book deserts exist all over,” Martin said.

Singh would like to stay involved in alleviating book deserts as she gets to high school.

“I just care about people getting to experience all these books,” Singh said.

Martin said because of the tremendous support from both schools they want to expand their reach throughout Indianapolis and Carmel.

“Both schools have been in conversations with nonprofits in our cities to find ways we can partner with multiple organizations to increase student access to books anywhere we find a need,” Martin said.