Office Hours: Little Free Libraries

My new column is up:

http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2012/09/opinion/michael-stephens/little-free-libraries-office-hours

Scanning the recent news articles about the LFL movement reveals something else, too. More often than not, those interviewed acknowledge the sense of community and collegiality that grow up around the little libraries. From a Los Angeles Times piece on a local LFL: “It has turned strangers into friends and a sometimes impersonal neighborhood into a community. It has become a mini–town square….” This gets to the heart of what many of us in libraries know: knowledge shared within a framework of caring and familiarity can strengthen communities.

Evidence of caring is present in the knowledge that few LFLs have been vandalized. Part of the packet a steward receives when registering an LFL includes a document outlining how to prevent vandalism. One hint: “Get as many people as possible to know they are a part of the success of the Little Free Library. It is a gift to all; not a private possession.” So simple, so true.

You can visit our LFL at http://www.facebook.com/LittleFreeLibraryTC

Jill Hurst Wahl from Syracuse University adds more to the LFL & LIS story in a comment at LJ
Michael,

Thanks for this article about the little free libraries.  In Syracuse (NY), we embarked on our own Little Free Libraries project in August 2011, which started with a tweet. Quickly we gathered a team of students and faculty from the LIS program at Syracuse University, students and faculty from the Visual and Performing Arts program at Syracuse University, staff from the Near Westside Initiative, and community members from the Near Westside where we planned on installing little free libraries.  

In October, this large group met on a Saturday to workshop everything about the LFLs.  After that, the design students worked on the design and the LIS students worked on defining the collection.  (BTW I should note that we have had a number of community organizations participate including the Onondaga County Library System and ProLiteracy.)  Our first LFL was launched with on Feb. 3 on Gifford St.  We hosted a party a few doors down, where we received more donations, talked to the media, and engaged in conversations about what the LFLs can be.  Before the evening was over, we had to refill the LFL twice!

Our first LFL went through over 150 books in the first month.  Since then, we have installed two more on the Near Westside.  We have also hosted a book drive for the LFLs and received more than 2000 books from the wider Syracuse community, including donations from children at a local elementary school.  Our LIS students helped with that effort.  

This summer, an LIS student did her internship with the LFL project.  Her task was to create documentation for the project that others could use, including a collection development policy.  Because many people will be involved in the collection, including each LFLs caretaker, we wanted to create documentation that would be helpful to everyone.  

We know from the caretakers and others who interact with the LFLs that they have been well received.  Books do get borrowed quickly and we have learned that truly every book has its reader, no matter the book.  People in the community truly see these as an asset.  (Yes, some books are returned and community members are contributing their own books directly into the LFLs.)

Will we install more? Not immediately. We want to get these firmly rooted in the community and then discuss other locations, different designs, etc.  We are definitely, though, going to do another book drive next spring (2013).  And I should mention that this fall, we will purchase books for the LFLs from cash donations we’ve received from across the country for the project.

For more on our Library Free Libraries project, please go to http://littlelibraries.syr.edu/  Perhaps others can learn from what we have done – and from what others have done – and create their own!

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