By: Diane Stirling
(315) 443-8975

A books-for-the-community initiative that has had the wind beneath its wings this semester is getting a second wind this summer.

The Little Free Libraries initiative, a University-community effort, recently concluded a highly successful National Library Week book drive, collecting more than 1,600 donated books, close to double the 1,000-volume goal. Last week, community stewards and School of Information Studies (iSchool) students took the donated books a step closer to the community by adding bookplates to create program recognition and to promote re-circulation. Now, with semester’s end, a summer library student intern will take up the challenge of assessing the initiative to determine how the program can become self-sustaining and viable for the future.

Focal points revolve around moving the program to its next stages, according to Jill Hurst-Wahl, Assistant Professor of Practice and director of the iSchool’s Library and Information Science program.  It’s important to devise ways for the program to continue to operate without the intervention of the organizing committee to build a library each and every time, she said. That is due to both the intensive, hands-on nature of the effort, as well as the growing list of requests from other neighborhoods and organizations seeking to have their own Little Free Library. “We recognize that we can’t keep building them. So part of the student intern’s role is to figure out how to answer those requests, how to help them get their own version, how they envision their library, and how they can make it happen,” she said.

The Little Free Libraries Project is a collaborative venture undertaken this spring between the iSchool, the College of Visual and Performance Arts (VPA) and residents of Syracuse’s Near Westside, building on relationships cultivated through the Common Ground initiative. The “take a book, return a book”pattern has expanded into a national phenomenon. The iSchool initiated the project after hearing about how the idea’s originator brought a miniature library kiosk to his Wisconsin neighborhood. iSchool program leaders were in touch with the originators throughout the spring effort, and the Gifford Street Little Free Library is officially registered and on the initial project’s map.

The 1600-plus volumes collected this term will continue to stock the original Little Free Library on Gifford Street (which already has distributed more than 300 books) plus fill two newly-added kiosks. Little Free Libraries in the same telephone-booth retrofit format are starting up at 601 Tully Street and at the corner of Otisco and Niagara Streets in Syracuse.

“When you step back and think about it, having this influx of books into the community is fantastic, whether they are in a library or not,” said Jaime Snyder, an iSchool doctoral program candidate and Little Free Libraries Project Coordinator. “There’s no shortage of books, so it’s just a matter of getting them circulated and moving.” 

The success of the Little Free Library program, Hurst-Wahl believes, is the program’s ability to capture peoples’ interest because they recognize that they can make a difference in someone else’s reading life. While many people take for granted that if they want to, they can pick up something to read, go buy a new book, or purchase a magazine, many others cannot; still others may not have easy physical access to reading materials, she notes.
“It’s important for families to have books in the home and it’s important for people to have something to read, if they want to read,” she said. That concept goes beyond the merit of having reading materials simply for reading pleasure, to a more general ability to promote literacy, Hurst-Wahl explained. “We know that having books in the home influences children, so even if there are books that the child doesn’t read, the fact that there are books in the home makes them more likely to grow up to be readers.”

Book donations to the Little Free Library initiative continue to be accepted. Among the cache of books received are some collected by elementary school children in Syracuse, and more are forthcoming based on a drive being conducted by a church in Cicero. More information on donations, including suggested book genres and titles, is available on the Little Free Libraries website. Monetary donations are also accepted, via the iSchool’s giving website.