One of Dr. Ashlee Hurff’s patients is a refugee who enjoys reading, but has a tough time finding books in Charlottesville written in Arabic.
So Hurff and other doctors at the University of Virginia Medical Center’s International Family Medicine Clinic decided to create the Little Free Library in the Family Medicine Clinic’s waiting room. They bought a small, brown bookshelf and filled it with books written in Arabic, Spanish, Pashto, Hindi and Dari.
“We are always encouraging people to read to their children and read for their own mental health, but it’s sometimes hard for people to find books in their native language,” said Claudia Allen, the clinic’s director of behavioral science.
The library was supported by the Bama Works Fund and Congregation Beth Israel, which donated about $2,500, according to Allen. It features 120 books in 20 different languages.
Many of the clinic’s doctors serve immigrants and refugees, some of whom are settled in the Charlottesville area by the International Rescue Committee.
According to a 2007 report by UNESCO, children learn better when instructed in their mother tongues. Additional UNESCO studies indicate that children who receive instruction in their mother tongue are more likely to continue schooling and to have parents involved in their education.
Books can provide a mental escape to older children and adults, said Allen, who does screenings and family counseling, but they also can be an important tool in tracking a child’s developmental phases.
“We provide developmental screenings for toddlers, using board books, but not all parents have access to books in their native language,” Allen said. “When we tell them some of those cute little board books are coming, they are absolutely thrilled.”
Dr. Fern Hauck helped to found the clinic in 2002; since then, she said, it has served 3,700 patients from 47 different countries.
“We want to be their medical home and their family and make them feel comfortable in our waiting room,” said Hauck, who helped to scour websites for appropriate books, and whose daughter created illustrations for the wall near the bookshelf.
The doctors said they hope people who take a book also leave a book. Donations of books or money also will be accepted.
“We hope this promotes literacy and a welcoming atmosphere,” Allen said. “No library card needed.”