Syracuse Little Free Libraries Prototype Unveiled

This post originally appeared on Information Space, the official blog of the Syracuse University School of Information Studies, on November 21, 2011. By Jaime Snyder.


In the beginning of November, the Syracuse Little Free Libraries (SYR-LFL) team gathered to check out a prototype created by VPA Interior Design faculty Zeke Leonard and his team of design students. Our meeting was hosted by our friends at La Casita Cultural Center, hopefully a future home of a spanish language little free library.

As you may know from reading earlier posts about this project (Syracuse Little Free Libraries Project Launches and The Little Free Libraries Project Comes to Syracuse ), SYR-LFL is a collaborative project between the iSchool, the College of Visual and Performance Arts (VPA) and residents of Syracuse’s Near Westside (NWS) through SU’s Office of Community Engagement and Economic Development (CEED). The idea is simple: we’ll be constructing and installing a series of small structures in the NWS community that house a continually evolving collection of free books. The location and contents of each Little Free Library will be determined by community members who are engaged with the project, guided by our design and library students. The motto of the project was coined by the founders of the Little Free Libraries movement Rick Brooks and Todd Bols: Take a book, return a book.

Designing a Little Free Library Look for Syracuse

While many of the Little Free Libraries created so far  take the shape and form of small wooden houses, Zeke’s team (Michele Palotta, Katie Malatesta, Jian Zhong, Meghan Adams, Danielle Dickerman, Kate Kirson) came up with a design for the Syracuse LFLs that is uniquely suited to the Near West Side neighborhood. The design team toured the neighborhood and observed a number of abandoned phone kiosks. The structures were already partially weatherproofed, have high visibility as public property, are often already designed with accessibility in mind, and are being phased out with existing mobile technology.

Repurposing Old Technology

In their design brief (PDF) the design team explained, “Traditionally payphones have been a major point of dialogue and now we are adapting them into another form of exchange. Books are the tangible form of a conversation or story, something that parallels the phone kiosk’s initial purpose… ”

As can be seen in the photographs here, the prototype uses an actual phone kioske structure (available at  Modifications have been made so that the enclosure can accommodate a variety of book sizes. A molded steel cuff has been added that frames the existing shape and serves as an attachment point for a plexiglas door, etched with the motto, “Take a book, return a book.” The closure will be constructed similarly to a refrigerator door, with weatherproofing and a magnetic latch.

Most of these existing structures are already hardwired, allowing for an interior light to illuminate the contents of the LFL, serving as a beacon for locating the structures in the neighborhood. The designers also saw potential for community involvement by asking community members to decorate the exterior of the phone kiosks, explaining, “We imagine some of these to be adorned with mosaics or work by local artists. This supports community pride and ensures that they will be well kept.”

Getting Feedback from the Commmunity

Community feedback on this prototype was decidedly positive and we are looking forward to installing the first Syracuse Little Free Library sometime in late January. Keep an eye out for updates about the location and collection development. We are also working on the SYR-LFL website!

What do you think of the Syracuse Little Free Library prototype? Post your comments here or email me at

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