A new program starting in St. Paul this weekend combines laundry and learning.
Starting Saturday, the St. Paul Public Library is joining a national effort that provides "pop-up" libraries in laundromats. The "Wash and Learn" program will debut locally at Giant Wash, 1675 Rice St.
Under the program, laptops and WiFi hotspots are installed at the laundromat. Librarians will be on site a few hours each Saturday through early October to lead workshops, conduct storytimes for children, and help people access library resources. There also will be shelves of books and other materials that people can check out, or read on-site.
Catherine Penkert, director of the St. Paul library system, said that because of transportation or scheduling issues, not all families can make it to a library branch when they need to. The "Wash and Learn" program aims to help close that digital divide.
"They have busy work schedules, busy school schedules, and it can just be hard to get to us," she said. "And so we want to think beyond our buildings and meet people where they are with our library staff and resources.
"This is a way to meet people when they have some down time and we can bring them resources so they can play, and they can learn, they can maybe get some work done," Penkert said.
Saturday's pop-up library begins at 11 a.m. at Giant Wash. Customers who register for the program between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. will receive a free wash and dry at the laundromat, courtesy of Giant Wash.
The service will be available every Saturday at Giant Wash through early October. Right now, St. Paul is the only Minnesota city trying out the program, but officials hope to bring it to other locations if it's successful.
"I'm excited to see this terrific partnership launch," Jennifer Nelson, the state librarian of Minnesota, said in a news release. "There are so many ways that people in Minnesota can connect with libraries, and this novel form of outreach promises to help instill the value of open and equitable access to information across the state."
The St. Paul Public Library is partnering on the program with Minnesota State Library Services and the nonprofit group Libraries Without Borders.