Dwaine Smith: Bridging the Reading Gap
“What are you reading?” is a question avid reader Dwaine Smith hears often and it is also the meaning behind Wayreading, a project he is spearheading in San Diego.
On Saturday, in a Barrio Logan coffee shop just steps away from a mini library he recently placed in the community, Smith shared how he is making books accessible to underserved communities in the city.
Smith is responsible for the three mini libraries that have recently popped up in the community of Barrio Logan. Similar to the nationwide movement of the nonprofit Little Free Library, residents can grab free books and donate some of their own. The official little free libraries are sold online for about $300 and have a registration cost of $40.
However, Smith is providing the libraries free of cost because he believes there is a need for free mini libraries in communities that might not have the income to purchase an official little library.
Born and raised in Logan Heights, Smith enjoyed reading growing up because he saw it as a way to escape what was going on around him having grown up during a time when violence and drug use was high in the community.
“I was conscious to everything that was going on around me, and so it was really an escape, you couldn’t escape and go to the park and play like a kid,” Smith said because of violence in the community.
As a young boy, Smith always had a book in hand and he would often pick books above his reading level, which would end up taking longer to read and library fines to build up.
Until his parents could pay the fines, Smith could not check out a new book, so he would go to the library to read them there, he said with a laugh. He enjoyed reading history books and books that helped him gain a different mindset, he said.
“What really attracted me to them was sort of escaping,” he said.
Smith noticed the little libraries in areas like North Park and Coronado, but saw there were none in Southeast San Diego, so he decided to make his own.
He created a GoFundMe page and asked friends, family, professors, and co-workers for books they would want to donate.
Smith said the project started as something nice and fun to do but now after seeing how positively people are reacting to it, he hopes to turn it into a nonprofit organization.
“I really would love to turn this into a nonprofit and a nonprofit that provides these libraries for people in what they call ‘opportunity zones,’ zones where people may not have the funding to buy new books,” Smith said. “I know what it is like to not be able to have books.”
Smith said that he has help from his girlfriend Melissa Link, who helps keep him on track with his project; Voltaire Lepe, who helped him find locations to place the mini libraries; and Chris Hines, who has reached out to people to donate books.
Smith said that although it is humbling to see people eager to donate and people willing to help with the project, it is also sad because it shows that people realize it is a resource that is lacking in the community.
“Things may seem better, things may seem happy, the community may be flourishing from a money standpoint with the new businesses, but we still have a gap here,” Smith said. “Every single time somebody says here’s a book I think we are slowly closing that gap.”
He hopes to keep expanding his project to areas that need them in San Diego, as well as add books in different languages.
“I really hope that we really start to fall in love again with reading,” Smith said.
Anyone interested in donating books or supporting Smith’s project can reach him via his Instagram account @wayreading or email: dwaine.smith[at]gmail[dot]com.