Words on Wheels: delivering literature to end book deserts

DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) –  A group here is creating a literary oasis in Miami Valley book deserts. Tuesday at the University of Dayton, non-profit The Conscious Connect unveiled a book delivery bike called Words on Wheels.

Founded in part by University of Dayton alumnus Karlos Marshall, The Conscious Connect is a grassroots organization dedicated to bridging the literacy gap between low income students and their peers. It started its mission by providing books for children at barber shops and beauty salons in low socioeconomic neighborhoods around the Miami Valley, often deemed “book deserts.”

The term refers to a geographic area where literature is largely difficult to access, especially without a car or other transportation. Marshall says the average child in such areas have access to only one age-appropriate book for every 300 individuals, and by the time a child is five years old, he or she will have heard 300 million fewer words.

“It’s quality of life,” Marshall said of issues caused by book scarcity. “Whether you’re talking about health, whether you’re talking about access to health food options, because what we know is food deserts are often prevalent in book deserts, as well as the ability to create a livable income.”

(Courtesy: Unite for Literacy) This map shows book scarcity in the Miami Valley. The various colors represent estimated percentages of homes with more than 100 books.


In an effort to eliminate book deserts, Marshall and the Conscious Connect created the concept of bringing literature to some of the most at-risk areas around the Miami Valley. The organization collaborated with University of Dayton School of Engineering’s Innovation Center to make the vision a reality.

Engineering students designed and built a three wheel bike attached to a large cart. The Words on Wheels bike can hold up to 500 books in each load, and Marshall said each book is selected to be culturally relevant and inclusive.

“We really want the children, youth and families to be able to see themselves in the stories and be able to imagine realities that they might not see on a daily basis,” Marshall said. “For us, book selection is extremely crucial and important to everything that we do.”

Marshall said the Words on Wheels bike will make deliveries during community events, such as football games and other gatherings. It debuts at the Springfield High School football game on September 8th.

You can learn more about The Conscious Connect here.

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