Public libraries have long been thought of as cornerstones of the neighborhoods they occupy—a quintessential piece of community infrastructure. But can these cornerstones be used to address some of our most pervasive social problems?

Food insecurity, as defined by the United Nation’s Food and Agricultural Organization, is the “lack of regular access to enough safe and nutritious food for normal growth and development”. According to the USDA, 1 in 10 Americans face food insecurity each year. Within that figure, about 13 million of these individuals are children who lack access to safe, affordable meals.

That’s where libraries come in. Free, safe, and accessible to all, libraries serve as a both a resource hub (providing education and information) and an access point, delivering food and other goods directly to the groups that need it most. Here’s how:

  1. Community Gardens: Community gardens have many proven benefits. They bring people together, improve agricultural competency, and increase food access in vulnerable communities. The best part: they’re also accessible and relatively easy to start, often operating in lots located in or near local public libraries.
  2. Seed Libraries Public libraries often serve as the homes of these seed libraries, providing a common location for seed storage and seed swaps and offering introductory classes for those new to gardening and crops.
  3. Freedges and little free pantries “Freedges” (free fridges), also known as little free pantries, serve as a direct resource for community members to access the food they need. An extension of the original idea of little free libraries, the basis of their operating principles are the same: Take what you need, and leave what you can. Freedges are often located in urban areas that receive lots of foot traction, maximizing the amount of community members able to utilize them.
  4. Free summer meals Public libraries often serve as distribution points during these times as they are easy for community members to identify and access.
  5. Emergency food distribution centers In times of crisis, it’s often community-based action that keeps communities afloat. This was proven especially true during the Covid-19 pandemic. In response, libraries across the country sprang into action, engaging staff and community volunteers to operate makeshift distribution centers for donated food products.

Read the full article about libraries and food security by Zanetta Jones at Shareable.