UChicago expands online library access, book readings to students and families

My Very Own Library program debuts virtual video series featuring authors, leaders

Student reading at libraryThe University of Chicago is expanding support for its at-home literacy program by providing access to online libraries and virtual readings, allowing students and families to keep building their love of books.

The University of Chicago My Very Own Library program will offer these online literacy resources in partnership with Scholastic Book Fairs and the NFL Alumni Association. The virtual read-along program will include faculty, authors, community leaders, and NFL alumni reading their own books and poems or works by their favorite childhood authors. Students and families can see all the latest videos by subscribing to the My Very Own Library YouTube channel.

The video series debuts this week, highlighted by UChicago Asst. Prof. Eve L. Ewing, AB'08, reading from her award-winning poetry collection, Electric Arches; author and Chicago native Natasha Tarpley reading from her novel, The Harlem Charade; and author/illustrator Tony Piedra reading from his children’s book, The Greatest Adventure. The videos will be a resource for any elementary school and family in need of literacy resources to supplement or compliment remote instruction. 

“I’m so grateful to have a chance, through MVOL, to engage with young readers and educators,” said Ewing, a faculty member in UChicago’s School of Social Service Administration. “During this time, when so many folks are feeling isolated, frustrated and separated from our communities, having conversations about books is a small way that we can feel a little bit closer to one another.”

The University created the online library as a way to reach the more than 50,000 students and families within the program who are spending more time at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. The program will now offer the three primary components: read alouds and author visits, family engagement, and support for access to books and incentives.

Read alouds and author visits have played a critical role in My Very Own Library’s mission to help motivate students’ interest in reading and families in partnering with schools for literacy.  With in-person opportunities currently limited, the virtual program will enable students and families to keep building their love of reading from home. The program will include an author or guest reading from a book, which ties into an interactive lesson plan that explores imagery, plot development, character development and conflict resolution.

The My Very Own Library program exists to increase the ability of students, schools, families and communities to generate ideas, explore interesting questions, and cultivate a lifelong affinity for reading through access to books, authors and resources,” said Duane Davis, UChicago’s executive director of K-12 education initiatives. “We are hoping this online virtual library will become a fun and invaluable resource for students and families.”

“During this time, when so many folks are feeling isolated, frustrated and separated from our communities, having conversations about books is a small way that we can feel a little bit closer to one another.” — Asst. Prof. Eve L. Ewing

In 2019, the University of Chicago assumed leadership of My Very Own Library, which partners with nonprofit organizations to provide elementary school students with access to books through free Scholastic Book fairs at 100 school locations throughout the United States and in the Dominican Republic. Since the program’s inception in 2011, My Very Own Library has added over 2 million books to students’ home libraries in Chicago; Newark; Milwaukee; Kansas City, Missouri; Richmond, California; the state of Delaware; and the Dominican Republic.

The MVOL program is working with Chicago Public Schools and lead agencies in other cities to further support family engagement in a remote learning environment. Collaborating with Scholastic Book Fairs, the program is in process of adjusting book distribution to students based on state, local, and school district safety guidelines.

In addition to helping students access books online, the program and will offer tools, links and other resources to families to bolster literacy activities at home. Virtual read alouds and other content will be published to the program’s new YouTube channel and on the University of Chicago My Very Own Library website.