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Refurbished newspaper machines get new lives as Children's little libraries

Published on Monday, January 14, 2019

By: Annie Oeth,

Former newspaper machines are now putting the written word in the hands of a new generation of readers, thanks to the efforts of John Moak Scarbrough of Jackson.

This past summer, the Jackson Academy freshman began working on a community service project, a requirement for Eagle Scout hopefuls. He wanted to work on a project that would last and have a real impact on his community.  His family’s support of Friends of Children’s Hospital – father John Scarbrough is treasurer for the nonprofit – brought him to tour Batson Children’s Hospital at the University of Mississippi Medical Center to look for ways to help.

Fast forward to December, and John Moak and his Eagle Scout father were delivering six newspaper vending machines, donated by The Clarion-Ledger, that they had refurbished into Little Free Libraries.

John Moak Scarbrough, a Jackson Academy freshman, shows his Eagle Scout project: six Little Libraries made from refurbished newspaper machines.

The machines, now coated with a shiny new paint job, don’t require coins, and their doors no longer have springs, so little fingers won’t get pinched. They’re being placed around the children’s hospital’s outpatient waiting areas, including the lobby, Eli Manning Clinics for Children, the Center for Maternal and Fetal Care, the neonatal intensive care unit waiting area, pediatric X-ray and Children’s Rehabilitative Services.

“I’m happy to see this finished,” John Moak said. “This took a lot of work, but I hope that children here will enjoy these and will make reading for enjoyment a habit.”

Sam Hall, executive editor of The Clarion-Ledger, said the newspaper was happy to donate the machines toward John Moak’s Eagle Scout project. “Encouraging children to read is so important for their future and for the future of Mississippi. To know these newspaper machines are still bringing stories to readers makes us very happy.”

Scarbrough loads his Little Free Libraries with books for outpatients at Batson Children's Hospital.

Unlike most libraries, the books inside are for patients to keep, which may help them succeed in school. The U.S. Department of Education found that the more children read for fun on their own, the higher their reading scores.

“Having a book to take home will make that easier,” John Moak said.

Each of the former newspaper machines is registered with Little Free Libraries, a nonprofit organization that fosters neighborhood book exchanges around the world.

Before the machines could be turned into Little Free Libraries, they needed a thorough cleaning. Scout friends from First Baptist Jackson’s Troop 8 joined in the effort by disassembling, cleaning and inventorying parts. Then came a brand new coat of paint from Service King Body Shop in Jackson.

John Moak chose paint colors that would coordinate with different waiting areas in the state’s only children’s hospital, in the end choosing white and gray, with a pop of color from rainbow stickers on the side.

Scarbrough adjusts the feet of the newspaper machines he turned into Little Free Libraries while his father, John Scarbrough, helps.

Magnolia Label Company created the artwork design that Signs First Metro used to create the vinyl stickers that make the machines look so professional.  Both companies donated their time once they found out the machines were headed to Batson. 

More than 140 hours of work went into the project, John Moak’s father said.

 “This is a wonderful project,” said Laurie Heiden, child life and hospital school coordinator at Batson. “Since the Little Free Libraries were delivered, I have seen parents reading to their children. This is what it is all about – parents bonding with their children by reading together.”

The Little Free Libraries will be kept supplied with books through UMMC’s Office of Development and by hospital volunteers. To learn more about donating books to help the project, email