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'Little Free Library' unveiled near Mooney building

Two Elon University students studying to be teachers and a School of Education staff member converted a newspaper stand to offer campus visitors a selection of books available for borrowing and return at no cost.

Elon University junior Nicole Cesari and senior Johanna Markiewitz unveil the first "Little Free Library" available to campus visitors. The library asks only that if you borrow a book, you return the book or contribute your own to another "Little Free Library."

Elon University’s first “Little Free Library” debuted Tuesday afternoon in a short ceremony featuring remarks by two Teaching Fellows and a School of Education staff member whose work over the past year made the project possible.

Their effort is the latest addition to a worldwide movement that builds literacy and community by providing free reading material through handmade boxes or renovated phone booths, birdhouses, newspaper racks and cabinets mounted in public spaces.  

The concept is simple. Visitors are free to take a book and return it when finished to any “Little Free Library” or provide a book of their own to an existing collection. Since the “Little Free Library” initiative started in Wisconsin five years ago, approximately 15,000 miniature libraries have been added around the globe to neighborhood streets and other gathering places.

Elon’s “Little Free Library,” the third to open in Alamance County, is a converted newspaper stand donated by the Times-News in Burlington, N.C. It is already stocked with a variety of books for readers of all ages. Featured writers include Stephen King, Shel Silverstein and Jack Kerouac.

The box that stands outside the back entrance to Mooney building had been repainted with a motif inspired by Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree,” a children’s book celebrating this year its 50th anniversary.

Laura Williams, director of the Curriculum Resource Center in the School of Education, worked with two Elon Teaching Fellows to refurbish a newspaper stand that houses the university's first "Little Free Library."

Senior Johanna Markiewitz of Charlotte, North Carolina, and junior Nicole Cesari of Raleigh, North Carolina – both Teaching Fellows studying to work as middle school science educators – last fall brought the idea for a “Little Free Library” to Laura Williams, director of the Curriculum Resource Center in the School of Education.

With the blessing of the school’s interim dean and the Office of the Provost, and permission from the university’s Physical Plant, the trio moved forward with their project. They spent the past several weekends painting the box and readying it for its May 13 grand opening. The “Little Free Library” is considered Markiewitz’s legacy project as a pending Teaching Fellows graduate.

“We were intrigued with the idea of promoting literacy,” Cesari said. “We also had read a lot about these libraries building community. Our plan is to put in student publications, too, to involve the whole community. The hope is to have these books applicable to as many audiences as possible.”

No late fees and no need for library cards makes the box an ideal place to find something to read. There’s already talk of introducing mobile libraries on campus as well as installation of libraries in Costa Rica where Teaching Fellows often study for a semester. Another goal is to eventually install a bench next to the library box on the Mooney back patio.

“There’d be nothing better than picking up a book or magazine and reading a few pages here between classes,” Markiewitz said.

Eric Townsend,
5/13/2014 5:10 PM