book ark for free books flanked by the program director, site host, and artists

Free Books in Low-Income Communities

The book ark at Bethel AME Church in Camden, flanked by CCPUL Executive Director Tom Martin, the Rev. Gloria Walker, and the local “arkists” who decorated it.We are pleased beyond measure to partner with Camden County Pop Up Library, our newest grantee. 

CCPUL’s motto says it all: “We take books where libraries don’t go and give them away.” 

The largely volunteer-run organization sponsors weekly pop-up libraries at three hubs in low-income Camden neighborhoods. Executive Director Tom Martin pulls up with a car full of books, and he and a cadre of volunteers arrange them on tables for adults and children to peruse and choose.

Frustrated that the pop-up libraries could be available for only a few hours a week, Tom added “book arks”: permanently installed bookshelves where people can drop by to pick up a book or three. 

Currently CCPUL has 70 book arks in Camden and a few more in surrounding communities. Compare that number to the eight public libraries in the Camden County system, and you see how CCPUL is making access to books more convenient for more adults and children.

map showing locations of book arks in Camden and Philadelphia
Book ark locations

Our funding will enable placement of 10 more book arks in 2022. Constructing the arks is typically the biggest expense, as most books are donated and the ark managers are volunteers. Five of those arks will be ours to decorate and place. 

“We hope to have young artists in our education and youth programs decorate the arks,” said Elena Piperno, director. “We’re looking to place the arks near our community partners. There’s already a pop-up library at Cathedral Kitchen.”

We’re also funding an exception to the rule that most books are donated. CCPUL doesn’t receive nearly enough books in Spanish to meet demand. So the Domenica Foundation is funding the purchase of 640 new Spanish-language books for adults and children.

“Literacy liberates and connects us,” said Tom Martin. “The book arks give away books 24/7 and, at the same time, beautify their neighborhoods. We’re grateful to the Domenica Foundation for helping us expand into more communities.”

CCPUL distributes nearly 180,000 books per year through the pop-up libraries and book arks. About one-third of those books are for children.

“We were excited about CCPUL and the Book Ark Project from the moment we heard about it,” said Elena. “The Domenica Foundation has deep roots in the education of young people, starting with our scholarship program. Now we’ll be helping whole families to explore the joy of reading.”