Winnipeg woman who collected 2,500 books inspired by turnout at free library event for kids

Preslee Marshall is a literacy advocate who decided to bring her own approach for getting others to embrace the power of reading through a free library event in her community. Temi Olatunde reports.

Preslee Marshall wanted to guide Winnipeg kids away from their iPads and video games at least for one afternoon – and spark a love of reading in the process.

The 26-year-old Winnipeg woman collected thousands of books over the last several months with the goal of creating a free library event for children.

Kids were greeted Saturday with tables upon tables of colourful, educational books. They could even go home with books if they wanted.

“Being able to come here and pick out what you want will just encourage a lot more children to read, and they’ll read it because they want to,” said Marshall.

The encouraging turnout has Marshall considering doing it again.

“I think it just further aligns with what I want to do, which is helping with this, and it further proves a point that we need it more in the community,” she told CityNews.

Winnipeg literacy advocate Preslee Marshall at her free library event on July 22, 2023. (CityNews)

Inspired by bookshelves set up all around the city as part of the Little Free Library Movement, she decided to bring her own approach for getting others to embrace the power of reading to the Winakwa Community Centre.

“I wanted to do something similar but on a much larger scale, to help the community, and because it’s summertime, I know how expensive it is to afford to put kids through a lot of activities as a parent,” she said. “So I wanted to make sure this was completely free for all kids and to get them away from the screens for a little bit.”

More than one million children in Canada have below grade-level reading skills, according to a 2022 Deloitte report for the Canadian Children’s Literacy Foundation. Marshall says she aims to combat the declining rates.

“Libraries, you always have to go back and return the book,” she said. “When I was growing up, that was the worst part for me. I loved the book, I never wanted to return it. So this way kids can come in here pick out their books, take it home with no worries of having to bring it back.”

Winnipeg literacy advocate Preslee Marshall’s free library event on July 22, 2023. (CityNews)

Parent Ryan Smith says his kids were thrilled to pick out new books for their bedtime stories collection.

“Reading is the best thing you can do before bed, and it progresses their literature like crazy,” said Smith. “I have a three-and-a-half-year-old, and I can’t get her to stop talking anymore. And we’re just getting him to start reading and it’s a really good connection between your kids too at night. Have them learn before bedtime is really good.”

Marshall managed to collect roughly 2,500 books since beginning a few months ago.

“Started with Kijiji,” she recounted. “I would look for bulk book packages to buy from there for a descent price, and then schools were giving out books from their libraries, old ones for free. So I would get some from there. And towards the end, even today I got a bunch of books. People came in, dropped some off for me, so even now I’m still getting books.

“At first my goal was 500 books, then I got 1,000 books, and then 1,500. I think I’m at 2,500 now. It just kept going up and up and that’s how I got all of these.”

Rock painting at Preslee Marshall’s free library event on July 22, 2023. (CityNews)

In addition to picking out new favourite books, children can also took part in activities like rock painting and puzzles.

“It’s a very exciting place,” one child told CityNews. “You win prizes, like a lot of prizes. So I recommend a lot of people go here and it’s very fun. And by the way there are free books.”

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