By: Diane Stirling
(315) 443-8975

The Syracuse Little Free Libraries project, an initiative that brings books for borrowing to community street corners, is among numerous initiatives presented by community groups and faculty, staff and students of Syracuse University being recognized with a 2012 Chancellor’s Award for Public Engagement and Scholarship.

The University-wide distinction recognizes a collaborative team project developed by the School of Information Studies (iSchool) in conjunction with representatives from the College of Visual and Performance Arts, the University’s Office of Community Engagement and residents of Syracuse’s Near Westside community.

The Little Free Libraries project was cited for its “dedicated, active involvement” on behalf of the University in the community, and for “encouragement of others to learn, discover, and create through deep engagement and exchanges with practitioners and communities.” The annual recognition is hosted by Syracuse University’s Mary Ann Shaw Center for Public and Community Service.

Little Free Libraries Project Coordinator Jaime Snyder led implementation of the initiative with a team of folks who brought various expertise and talent to the project. Snyder works as the iSchool’s liaison for Interdisciplinary Development for the initiative Common Ground, and recently completed her doctoral dissertation in Information Science and Technology.

“It is really nice to get this acknowledgement while the project is still ongoing,” Snyder said, since the attention of the award “will mean more people will hear about it and more people can get involved.” She said the organizing team “has been overwhelmed with the positive support and encouragement this project has received from everyone, from the Chancellor to the little kids on the street.”  She added that, from the initial planning meeting, the group’s focus was to assure that the project “came out of the community, and that we were responding to community interest and need.  I think we’ve been able to maintain being very true to that goal, keeping the focus and vision we had from the beginning.”

The team being recognized by the award includes: Elizabeth D. Liddy, Dean of the iSchool; Snyder; Marten Jacobs, SU Community Engagement, Director of the Near Westside Initiative; Zeke Leonard, VPA Faculty/Design; Jill Hurst-Wahl, iSchool faculty member and director of the Library Science Program; Ameea Roares, Near Westside community member; Meg Adams, Jian Zhong, Katie Malatesta, Michelle Palotta, all VPA Design students; and Christopher Lawton, Rachael Altman, and Chubing Hong, iSchool Library Science students.

The project grew from a tweet posted last summer by Jill Hurst-Wahl, iSchool faculty member and director of the Library Science Program. She had seen information about the first Little Free Library, established in Wisconsin, and wondered if the program might be replicated locally.

The pay-telephone housing that comprises a Little Free Library on Gifford Street in Syracuse has had much success already. In its first four weeks of operation more than 120 books have been borrowed.

Based on its early popularity and success, plans are in place to install two more Little Free Libraries in Syracuse, Snyder said.

An initial book drive yielded more than 350 donated books. Another effort, with a goal of obtaining 1,000 donated books, is planned for National Library Week in early April. Snyder said that the additional supplies will help the team to continue stocking the initial library, and assure there are sufficient books for the two additional libraries planned.