Among the industrial-sized washers and droning dryers, Shakopee laundromat patrons can now find a quiet reading nook.
Those awaiting fresh clothes at Giant Wash Coin Laundry at 401 1st Av. W. need only turn to the small bookshelf wedged against the window to help them pass the time. Here, children are invited to curl up with picture books on a colorful rug, while adults devour mystery novels.
A pair of laptops provide internet access to customers looking for assistance finding a job, dealing with a problem landlord or pursuing a healthier diet.
It’s all part of Scott County Library’s “Wash and Learn” program, an initiative aimed at closing the digital divide.
“The goal is to bring library services out into the community,” said Cindy Purser, associate library director for Scott County. “Who are we missing and how can we expand access?”
The six-week pilot program, sponsored by Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Libraries Without Borders, provides furniture and Dell laptops with Wi-Fi hot spots, alongside books and other educational materials that customers can read on site or take home.
Giant Wash locations in St. Paul and Anoka County have implemented similar programs this year. Librarians spent several hours per week teaching workplace skills, offering storytimes for children and answering questions.
St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter called it a “forward-thinking” idea that he’d like to see expanded throughout the entire city.
In 2015, Libraries Without Borders began building pop-up reading programs in public parks, train stations, food pantries and farmers markets. When organizers put one near a laundromat, they received higher demand than anticipated.
But the model isn’t just about providing a bookshelf, said Allister Chang, executive director of Libraries Without Borders. It’s about developing public-private partnerships to share resources where the community already gathers.
“A lot of families have told us they don’t participate in library programs because they have unpredictable work schedules and can’t afford to miss a shift,” Chang said in a statement. “Wash & Learn reduces these barriers because it brings the library to a location they visit weekly. It helps families knock out three birds with one stone: wash clothes, complete a professional development program, and help children develop early literacy skills.”
Paula La Frenierre, adult services coordinator at Scott County Library, has dedicated Monday evenings to making connections with Shakopee residents. She developed an informational website to help answer frequently asked questions, such as “What can I do for fun in and around Shakopee?” or “How do I start a business in Minnesota?”
Nearby, a bookshelf filled with donated children’s books offers some materials translated into Spanish and Somali — a sign of the southwestern suburb’s changing demographics.
Educational resources will remain available on site throughout the summer.
Daryl Johnson, owner of the Giant Wash chain, said he was happy to promote literacy in his stores.
“It’s amazing to think that you can change people’s lives through a load of laundry,” Johnson said in a statement. “It’s humbling to be a part of this.”