Soccer + Literacy = Win! Partnership with EPL brings library pitch side

Free Footie & the Edmonton Public Library team up to bring fact & fiction to the field!

People often think of a library as synonymous with the building that it’s held in. For most of it’s history, that’s how people thought of Edmonton Public Libraries: as a variety of brick and mortar educational institutions. But Edmonton has changed, and the library is changing with it. Communities are expanding faster than those buildings can be built, so the library must come to them. In 2014, Edmonton Public Library’s Literacy van, a mobile library, hit the road.

 “We service areas of the city that are underserved,” said Pamela Fong, Community Librarian at Edmonton Public Library Literacy Vans. In a sprawling city, underserved has a few definitions. “It might be underserved geographically,” Pamela said. “A lot of the places we're visiting on a weekly basis are further than five kilometres away from a branch.” These are often newly developed areas in the southern or northern-most sides of the city with little amenities even beyond a library. In the summer, these vans set up shop in parks. “In the summertime we set up outside,” Pamela said. “We have tents, we have benches, and we have equipment that we'd bring into a particular space.” In the winter, however, it’s difficult to find a brick and mortar space to set up for just an evening in some of these communities, let alone an entire library branch.

The literacy van at our game - looking good!

The literacy van at our game - looking good!

But there are other barriers to the services Edmonton Public Library provides that the Literacy Van can accommodate for. And this is where the partnership between the Edmonton Public Library and Free Footie comes in. Free Footie and the Literacy Van program occupy the same demographic. “Edmonton Public Library aims to provide services to anybody that might be seen to have barriers,” Pamela said. For Free Footie, this includes families that may have no experience with Edmonton Public Library, or a library system in general. This season EPL had it's staff and vans make weekly rounds to 7 different Free Footie locations. Free Footie is organized so about 300 kids per week play in each location, making it a perfect place for kids to see the library in a different way. Tim Adams is the founder of Free Footie.

"I put in the call to the library to start this partnership because I've always seen soccer as the vehicle for something bigger. I don't care about the wins on the pitch, i care about the big picture wins. How can we leverage the kids love to play to build their resume of life skills and  knowledge of resources in the city? How can we leverage the game to reach the kid's families, so they get something more out of the game too? To me, play is a basic right and so is access to a library. I was so excited when the EPL jumped on board with the idea."
The literacy vans park just off to the side of the fields, so they're right in there with the action.

The literacy vans park just off to the side of the fields, so they're right in there with the action.

The vans carry technology found in EPL’s branches, a collection of books, and even musical instruments. “We offer a wide variety of things,” Pamela Fong said. “We offer a popup library: anybody can come and use the ipads or the laptops and we have free wifi. We often bring out some musical instruments, so we’ve had some kids jamming along on our ukuleles.” Parents or siblings of those in Free Footie programs can browse the book selection or use the internet while the little footballers do their thing on the field.

Love how this photo captures the games going on in the background while the sisters and brothers who are little too young for Free Footie play with the amazing EPL staff! #family 

Love how this photo captures the games going on in the background while the sisters and brothers who are little too young for Free Footie play with the amazing EPL staff! #family 

The folks operating the Literacy Van program carry the same enthusiasm with them for Free Footie as they do for their own organization. After all, Free Footie helps people in the same way that their program does. Working together, they hope they can compound the good they do for these communities. “It’s a group of people that we might not be reaching otherwise,” Pamela said. “It's just great to touch base and collaborate and provide services that they might not necessarily have.”

Sport can be so much more! Look what partnerships will bring to the side of field. More please!

Sport can be so much more! Look what partnerships will bring to the side of field. More please!

Written by: Patrick Connolly  Photos by: Catherine Page