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Viral TikTok Brings Awareness to Baltimore's Book Deserts

"My initiative is to put free book vending machines all across the book deserts of Baltimore."
Viral TikTok Baltimore Story Maze
Posted at 3:57 PM, Nov 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-17 19:34:34-05

BALTIMORE — In 48 seconds, Araba Maze explains how she went from an aunt reading storybooks, to a finalist in the United Way's Baltimore County Changemaker Challenge.

Watch the video here:


tiktok! I need your help 🙏🏿 @unitedway ##booktok ##librariansoftiktok

♬ original sound - Sarah Cothran

If she wins on Wednesday night, she plans to use the $25,000 in grant money to put free book vending machines in Baltimore's book deserts.

When she finished reading to children on her front stoop, the kids who had joined her asked what she'd be reading next.

"Just go home and read a book," Maze recalls telling them. "And they were like, 'we don't have any books at home.'"

Book Desserts In Maryland.png
The darkest reds on the map show areas where an estimated 0-10% of households have at least 100 books. Much of the city is shaded in the darkest red color.

She suggested the library, but the kids told her their parents wouldn't take them, or they didn't have a library card.

"You can live near your library where you still don't have book access," she says, "because there's still a lot of barriers."

Maze hopes that by putting in free book vending machines, it will create an excitement for kids to build their own collection of books.

"The vending machines create, like an excitement, a thrill that they are curating their own home libraries. And so they develop a personal relationship with those books, and bond over them. So that way they develop into lifelong readers and pass that down to their children."

- Araba Maze

To reach the kids with the most barriers to access, Maze has been working with different venues for the vending machines.

"We're talking to, right now, some barber shops, a laundromat, we're hoping to do the Milford Mill Subway stations or bus stops," she tells WMAR-2 News.

She's also hoping to get them installed in the lobbies of low income housing units.

"The average book is $12... And the US Department of Education's national standard is for each household to have 100 books. So you're looking at $1,200 to build a substantial library."

-Araba Maze

As for where the books are coming from, Maze says, the social media attention has been very helpful.

"We do have a pipeline of books coming in largely thanks to the viral TikTok video, we've gotten so much support. We've partnered with the Maryland Book Bank, Hindi Libraries Bluestar Press, have all agreed to set up a monthly donations of new books," she says.

She also has an Amazon wishlist set up for people who would like to donate.

Maze won $5,000 from the audience choice award and a $15,000 investment on Wednesday!