The Randallstown YMCA has debuted a free public book vending machine to improve literacy and encourage reading among children and families. 

The machine is the brainchild of Araba Maze, who calls herself a “Radical Street Librarian.” 

Maze began reading to her nieces on her front steps many years ago. Soon after, other neighborhood kids began gathering and “stoop story time” became a regular community activity. 

“The kids were always asking me for books and I started thinking they don’t have any books at home,” Maze said. “So I became a librarian and I thought this would be the way I would increase free book access.”

But after realizing the kids that frequented the library were not the same kids from the stoop that Maze was originally passionate about, she decided to develop something where she could reach those kids where they are.

With the help of a grant from United Way, aid from sponsor WellPoint, and a push from Maze’s social media followers, Maze introduced the free public book vending machine at the YMCA in Randallstown. 

“There have been models in schools but I really wanted to put one in a community space,” she said. “So this one is free and open to members of the public and it ties into community spaces that are already in use.”

The machine will stay at the Randallstown location for six months. Then, in August it will be moved to a new community space with high foot traffic.  

“We want families to get back into reading,” said Towanda Ford, membership operations manager at the Randallstown YMCA. “We want kids to put their cell phones down, get off of those social media apps, and just take out the time to read.”

To access books from the machine, children receive a token from the YMCA’s front desk which they place in the vending machine. They are then able to choose a book of their liking, take it home, and add it to their very own personal library. 

“We love that the kids get to have the experience,” Ford said. “It’s not just a parent bringing home a book, but children will have a full experience in choosing and retrieving their own books.”

Maze personally fills the machine herself once a week with “books with a purpose,” Ford said. “We look for books that are diverse, tell stories of historical moments, and encourage accomplishing goals.”

The machine, which can hold more than 200 books, has been restocked with at least 100 books per week thus far. During the six months it will be operational at the YMCA, it is estimated that it will dispense 2,600 brand new books to children of all ages. 

Supporters can donate books through the Amazon wish list or by donating money for books via Venmo.

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Latrice Hill

Latrice Hill is a Baltimore native and Morgan State University graduate who loves all the great things this city has to offer. She worked with WMAR 2-News as an Assignment Desk Editor before she joined...

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