Get to know the person, the vision, and the people behind the LiteracyNation’s Sidewalk Library.

Our Mission Statement

Our mission is to promote justice, equity, and diversity in literacy by providing services to underserved communities of Color and supporting diverse independent booksellers and self-published authors. Our goal is to increase the awareness and distribution of books that promote inclusion and positive representation of People of Color.

The “Sidewalk Librarian”

a mother and her son smiling while having a picture inside a library

Richard E. Ashby, Jr. is the Library Director of Sharon Hill Public Library in Sharon Hill, Pennsylvania, and the former Library Director of the Sto-Rox Public Library in McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania. Mr. Ashby was the first African American male to hold the title of Library Director in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.

Besides his distinguished library career, Mr. Ashby is the former President of the Black Caucus of the American Library Association, having committed himself to serving the literacy needs of communities of Color. He remains active in the organization, serving in various capacities.

Lovingly known in social media circles as @sidewalklibrarian, Mr. Ashby has made quite a name for himself, as a champion of sorts, of self-published authors. During the Coronavirus pandemic, he had an idea to bring the works of self-published authors into the Sto-Rox library, where he served as Director. Mr. Ashby said he started noticing how the children were drawn to the big, beautiful picture books that featured characters who looked just like them.

“These books,” says Ashby, “were about doctors, lawyers and other African American people, doing great things and living significant lives. This is something many of the children had never seen before. They were not used to seeing Black and Brown people in their books. It not only fascinated them, but anyone could see, it made them very happy and proud.”

That encouraged him to reach out to other self-published authors on social media platforms like Instagram and Clubhouse. This resulted in Ashby garnering a loyal following of writers, authors and library lovers numbering in the thousands. He invited them to submit their books, and he began cataloging them in the World Catalog system. To date, over five hundred books by self-

published authors from all around the country are available to readers who hold library cards. Ashby says by doing so, it validates these authors and gives value to their message. “We’re saying that we appreciate you. We’re saying there is a place for you in the public library.”

Richard E. Ashby, Jr., understands the challenges that self-published authors face as they compete with the large publishing companies that have the prestige, finances and experience to market their books, showcase their authors and gain easy access to libraries, schools and bookstores. He has found that a great number of the books by self-published authors are equally excellent, entertaining and educational as those traditionally published. He feels it is a personal calling to support these authors in presenting their books to the public, in particular, children’s books that feature and positively represent people of Color. “Children of Color need to have access to books that have characters who look like them, characters they can relate to. It makes an incredible difference in the way they see themselves. It can build their confidence and self-esteem. In my opinion,” says Mr. Ashby, “it just may encourage them to read more. As a Library Director, that makes it a simple decision for me.”