How Books in New York Barbershops Can Increase Boys’ Literacy

Barbershop Books wants to make reading fun for young boys in New York.

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Alvin Irby was in a barbershop across the street from the elementary school where he taught, accompanying a first grade student who needed a haircut. He observed the boy getting antsy as he waited, and thought to himself, “he really should be practicing his reading right now. I wish I had a book to give him.” Five years later, Barbershop Books was born.

Barbershop Books is a community-based literacy program that provides child-friendly reading spaces in barbershops, aimed at boys aged 4-8. Each space includes 15 books, all of which were curated as culturally relevant, age appropriate and gender responsible. The mini-libraries are currently installed at 11 different locations across New York City, mainly in the Harlem area.

According to the United States Department of Education, only 15% of America’s black male K-12 students are proficient in reading. As a result, the remaining 85% is statistically less likely to finish high school or secure stable employment. Barbershop Books wants to turn that around in a simple but essential way - by making reading fun. The program brings books and the act of reading into a male-centered environment - to bring the gift of literacy to those that need it most.

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