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How a Mobile Barbershop Helped Increase Childhood Reading in Cleveland

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A mobile barbershop on-site at Cleveland Public Library’s Barbershop Books launch event on August 12, 2023, at the Glenville Hip Hop 50 Festival in Sam Miller Park.

Written by Katie Sullivan, Senior Program Manager, Urban Libraries Council

In partnership with Barbershop Books, ULC’s Barbershop Books Pilot for Libraries supported a small cohort of libraries in 2023 and 2024 to provide reading opportunities to Black boys directly in barbershops in their local communities. Participating libraries received support, peer learning cohort opportunities and virtual training to connect with and establish programs in local barbershops. Continue reading for a case study from a participating ULC member library.

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Barbershop Books Case Study: Cleveland Public Library

For Cleveland Public Library, participation in the Barbershop Books Pilot for Libraries was a no-brainer. “We felt that the program presented alignment with our goals as far as putting books into the barbershops,” said DiFranco Barnes, Outreach Program and Services Project Coordinator for Cleveland Public Library. “We felt that it created the opportunity to put books into the community and possibly create change.”

The initiative also aligned well with city-wide goals around strengthening literacy. Cleveland Reads started when Mayor Justin Bibb challenged Cleveland residents to read one million books and/or for 10 million minutes in 2023. The challenge was a response to alarming statistics: according to Seeds of Literacy, 66% of Cleveland residents are functionally illiterate.

“We know that literacy starts at birth,” said Isabelle Rew, Outreach Manager for Cleveland Public Library. “The library was therefore motivated to participate in opportunities like Barbershop Books that would help them access and support the community.”

When the library began outreach to barbershops in the community, they made a connection that shaped the rest of their program. Solar Mobile Studio is an Ohio-based mobile grooming service run by Dub the Artisan, who was willing and able to join the library for Barbershop Books and other library-affiliated events. “He helped us hit the ground running. We could drop him into the programs and events we already had planned,” said Barnes. “He could pull up with the big truck, and he was there to give out haircuts. It attracted people to us and helped us with accessibility.”

The library hosted several events around the Barbershop Books program, including a launch event at the Glenville Hip Hop 50 Festival in August 2023 and an event called "The Crown," which celebrated Black hair. The library was also able to provide books to give away at a local non-violence youth summit, which they learned about through one of their barbers.

Ultimately, Cleveland’s pilot was a success. The library was strategic about recruiting barbershops in areas of community need and near schools, finding that the barbershops located near schools were some of the most active in the program. The barbershops that participated in the program received an estimated 42,484 combined visits from children 8 and under, and the books were interacted with an estimated 19,292 times in the program’s first year.

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Estimates based on barber survey responses and projected over 12 months in 2023-2024. Projected counts are not unique and include repeat visits and repeat interactions.

This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services grant number LG-252555-OLS-22.


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