By Nicholas Filipas
Record Staff Writer
STOCKTON — A fine powder of sawdust floated gently in the breeze, while the screech of power drills and hammers could be heard throughout a busy morning of class at the Lincoln High Engineering and Construction Academy.
Outside in the courtyard, several Lincoln High students put the final touch on their latest project: assembling 50 Little Free Libraries that will be later distributed throughout the city.
“Being able to do this means a lot, and knowing I am going to be seeing these around Stockton, I’m going to be able to say ‘Dang, I built that,’” Diego Escobar, 15, said with various tools hanging from his waist belt.
“I know it’s going to help some kids out there and be a library for different kinds of kids.”
The idea of having students build the Little Free Libraries stemmed from a partnership between the Lincoln Unified School District and San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors chairman Moses Zapien, co-founder of the local Little Free Libraries movement.
The little library, a nationwide movement, is meant to promote literacy and free access to books.
The idea is simple yet incredibly effective: a box filled with books — think of an over-sized birdhouse, or many around town that have been converted from news boxes donated by The Record — with books free for borrowing.
Books of all kinds are available for ages 0-17, or older. Take one or a couple, return it to the same location or another Little Free Library and take another one. Paying it forward is the name of the game.
Little Free Libraries are also not just meant strictly for books. People can share music CDs, DVDs, college textbooks and dictionaries.
After a partnership and project proposal between Zapien and Lincoln Unified was approved last spring, construction academy instructor David Dabaco and his students were tasked to construct 25 libraries.
“We built (the first) 25 last year and then I committed to build another 25,” he said. “It took some time for Moses to line up several of the suppliers, but they brought in the materials and we hit the ground running.”
Each little library stands five feet tall with lumber supplied by Golden State Lumber in Stockton. Dabaco said his students redesigned the box by adding sliding plexiglass doors, from Cen Cal Glass.
“In the past, a lot of the Little Free Libraries had doors that opened or lifted up,” said Dabaco. “We came up with sliding plexiglass doors so this way, kids can see the books that are in there and take a book and have full access on both sides. It’s a little more simple: no hinges, nothing to rip off or break.”
The boxes will be donated to numerous elementary school sites and local community organizations, which in turn will be able to decorate and personalize their boxes.
Zapien said there are 71 libraries currently installed in Stockton, and by the end of the year, the goal of 100 libraries will be reached.
“It’s been very gratifying to work with the community to promote literacy, and part of this endeavor to promote has been the result of helping to improve the outcomes for young people,” Zapien said.
The construction academy, adjacent to the Lincoln High main campus, has more than 500 students taking classes ranging from mechanical engineering to woodworking.
Educators are seeing the need for more vocational courses, as many students who graduate high school may not desire to go to college and want to enter directly into the workforce.
“There’s a perception out there that every kid is going to college — 18 to 20 percent of high school students go into a four-year college and the rest go to a community college,” said Dabaco.
“A vast majority of young people are going to end up in the working world, so if we can hook them up earlier into (various) types of careers, they’ll be so much better off.”
He added that a project like this one, producing mass quantities of little libraries, gives students the opportunity to really hone in on making sure every cut and measure is right. Just like the old saying goes: measure twice, cut once.
“Anybody can drive a nail, what you need are the skills to lay a project out and do all the marking, do all the measuring,” Dabaco said. “Either it’s correct and you did it right, or no, you didn’t do it right, take it apart, fix it and do it right.”
The most challenging aspect, said 17-year-old Brian Chen, was not learning how to properly use power tools, but learning to work together as a team.
“At first we didn’t know anyone, (it was) hard to communicate with each other because we were working with strangers,” he said. “Now we know each other and we’re familiar with each other.”
“Honestly, it makes me feel really good,” Jamie Cuevas, 17, said. “Just a small thing like this and working together makes it easier.”
— Contact reporter Nicholas Filipas at (209) 546-8257 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on recordnet.com/filipasblog or on Twitter @nicholasfilipas