In Fall 2011, the Little Free Libraries Project launched as a collaboration between residents of the near Westside of Syracuse, the iSchool, the College of Visual and Performing Arts, and the Office of Community Engagement and Economic Development. Since then, our team has grown and the vision for what a Little Free Library can be in Syracuse has evolved.
Site Specific Design
At the end of November, we shared our prototype for the first micro-library. Constructed from a reclaimed phone kiosk, this structure makes a visual and functional comparison between the public telephone and the Little Free Library (LFL), both points of congregation and exchange of information.
During the design process, Zeke Leonard and his VPA students visited many of the spots that had been discussed in the initial meeting. This was how the idea of using abandoned phone kiosks evolved. As the students observed and interacted with community members, they envisioned a new life for these obsolete structures. With the prevalence of cell phones, most of these kiosks are being removed by phone companies. Some have remained in the near Westside, and will make great homes for the LFL. The phone kiosks can be retrofitted to hold two dozen books, they will be weatherproof, have a Plexiglas door, and a light inside so that books are visible any time of the day.
Location, Location, Location
Our next task was to identify a specific location for the first LFL. As Maarten Jacobs, Director of the Near Westside Initiative, wrote in a recent NWS newsletter:
The near Westside of Syracuse is blessed to have a public library at the edge of its community. The Mundy Library, located on Geddes Street, has done a wonderful job serving hundreds of families each year. Unfortunately, not everyone takes advantage of the library, and many in the neighborhood feel it is too far to walk to. So what access to books do they then have? Sadly, very little… The project goal is not intended to take the place of the full range of resources and services available in our public libraries; rather the intent is to promote literacy and conversation in the community. The libraries’ theme is to “take a book and leave a book”, encouraging books to cycle throughout the neighborhood.
We started brainstorming about possible locations at our very first workshop in October. Community members expressed not only a desire to have multiple LFLs positioned throughout the near Westside, but expressed a strongly optimistic belief that the book repositories would be well-tended and appreciated by a range of people: kids, adults, avid readers and beginners. A specific request was made for books in English and in Spanish, at a range of reading levels.
Criteria for a prime location includes regular foot traffic, a committed community steward to look out for the structure and contents of the LFL, opportunity to champion a local library, and a population of people of all ages and reading abilities interested in sharing books. Zeke and his design students included a selection of three possible locations in their presentation of the kiosk prototype, explaining that the location of existing phone kiosks could drive the positioning of our first set of LFLs.
Drawing on his extensive connections within the community, Maarten Jacobs negotiated an agreement with the owner of a green building on Gifford Street, next to DiMaria’s Convenience Store and just down the street from Nojaim’s market.
Not only is there an existing phone kiosk at this location, but the owner of the building has agreed to reconnect electricity to it when the LFL is installed, enabling the structure to have the internal lighting that was a key aspect of the original design. The location is also next to a heavily used and bus stop. And best of all, our community steward, Mother Earth (center, photo below), can see the structure from her kitchen window, ensuring that this first Little Free Library will be looked after.
Next steps for our team will involve gathering books based on a list of titles developed by the LIS students involved in the project. Be on the look out for an announcement soon about how YOU can get involved in the Syracuse Little Free Library Project by donating books.