In the last three years seven Alaskan airports have installed 13 bookshelves for children ages 0-18 to take/leave a book thanks to a new program called Read on the Fly started by Alaskan mother and family travel blogger Erin Kirkland of AK on the Go. The first shelf opened in June of 2016 at the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport and since then Fairbanks, Ketchikan, Valdez, Bethel, Juneau, and Kodiak have received bookshelves. The program runs on donations which are vetted, tagged, and distributed to airports by volunteers. Approximately 100 books a week restock the bookcases.
As a frequent traveler and a lover of books, I personally think these shelves are one of the best airport installations in the world. I am so delighted that my own home airport has two of them, one in the baggage check area and one by the departure gates. This is why I could not be more excited to bring you an interview with Erin about Read on the Fly!
Where does your love of reading come from?
I was raised by reading parents. My brother, sister and I grew up immersed in books, and my mother was always very tuned in to what our interests were, and nurtured those through books she thought we’d enjoy. For example, we were reading Tintin before anyone else in our circles, and my sons grew up reading our old copies.
Does your family have a favorite read-aloud book?
My boys are 25 and 14 now, but when they were smaller they enjoyed the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books, and anything by Beverly Cleary.
What prompted you to start this program?
Children in Alaska fly more than kids in other states purely by necessity, so as a result tend to spend lots of time in airports. As a travel journalist I fly around the state on a regular basis, and saw so many bored kids relying upon the new ‘default’ strategy – their phones or tablets. Coupled with this was a 2014 report about Alaska’s literacy rates compared to other states. We are near the bottom, and that bothered me. Reading is a lifelong skill, but a love of reading something that may take a while, so kids need to practice now to enjoy it later as adults.
How are the books vetted and have you thought about expanding for adult readers?
All books donated to Read On the Fly are vetted by our cadre of dedicated volunteers at each airport, and labeled to show we’ve laid eyes on them. The Anchorage airport is our hub, and the distribution center there has boxes and boxes of vetted books we ship to more rural airports when community champions need them.
We do not have any plans to expand the project for adult readers.
Can other communities launch shelves at their own airport?
If communities would like to launch their own Read On the Fly shelf, there are several moving parts. First is achieving the airport’s support (some are operated by a single airline, like Alaska, others are state-owned and have a different level of leadership. Then a champion for supporting the project needs to be found, and then books, volunteers, and people to build the shelves using our blueprints. It is always more complicated than people think.
How can people help and get involved?
Support shelves in your communities! Anchorage, Kenai, Fairbanks, Juneau, Ketchikan, Bethel, and Valdez all have shelves. Use them, encourage kids to grab a book.
If you see shelves that need straightening, please do so. Volunteers restock on average once per week, and it takes the entire community to keep the project running successfully.
Read On the Fly is not an entity – merely, it is a collective of people who care about kids and books and literacy. Best Beginnings Alaska is our fiscal sponsor, so we are able to receive donations and write grants to support shelf construction/supplies, and keep those shelves looking new and sharp for our readers.
Find out more about and/or donate to Read on the Fly at Readonthefly.com.
What are you hoping to see in the future for this program?
I’d like to have a bookshelf of some sort in every Alaska airport.
Follow Read on the Fly on social media:
Twitter & Facebook @ReadOntheFly
Find Erin at:
What’s the last book you read on an airplane? Do you have a favorite family read-aloud? Let’s discuss in the comments below!
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