Local Nonprofit Creates Mobile Library for Kids in Migrant Camp

Katie Howland, co-founder of Millie’s Bookshelf, will send a library with dozens of books to a Tijuana migrant camp

A San Diego woman is working to give kids access to books, in areas of the world where there’s no library in sight.

Katie Howland is the co-founder of Millie’s Bookshelf, San Diego’s only nonprofit humanitarian organization that works in refugee settings overseas.

Her goal: get a micro library in every refugee camp around the world.

“Early access to books is a critical predictor of literacy, of socio-emotional development, and also the capacity to cope with trauma which we all know these kids need,” said Katie Howland, co-founder of Millie’s Bookshelf.

Howland came up with the idea after quitting her job at the United Nations Foundation and flying to Jordan to help with refugees affected by the Syrian civil war.


“While I was there, I was amazed that I was in one of the most established camps in the world, and yet one in three kids was still out of school. And as I talked to parents in the camp, I found out that it was almost impossible to get your hands on a book,” said Howland.

After doing more research, Howland realized this problem wasn’t just affecting Jordan. It was affecting children all over the world, including in the United States, kids living in “book deserts” – areas with no libraries or access to books nearby.

“The idea is if you don’t have access to a community library or your classroom doesn’t have a corner that are filled with book shelves that are covered in Scholastic books, or you don’t even have a local bookstore you can go to, how are you going to develop those skills necessary not only to pass the time and escape your reality, but to learn skills to rebuild or to relate to other people who may be going through similar experiences as you?” said Howland.

Howland’s next project is to create a "Rapid Response Library" at a migrant-run shelter in Tijuana called Casa Hogar El Puente. The library is a compact library on wheels with more than 100 Spanish and bilingual books inside, along with pillows and stuffed animals. Howland estimates the library will serve 25-30 women and children every few weeks as families rotate in and out of the shelter.

Millie's Bookshelf

“We think that every kid deserves a chance to be just that, a kid and I know that some of my hardest trials in childhood were solved by curling up with a good book and escaping my reality for a little bit and we want to make sure every kid has that opportunity,” said Howland.

Howland also has plans to set up micro libraries in Jordan and northern Iraq.

You might also find one of her libraries in a neighborhood in San Diego. One of her red libraries will be set up in local neighborhoods filled with dozens of used books inside.

If you’re interested in helping Howland’s mission at Millie’s Bookshelf, click here.

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