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MLIS students install Little Free Libraries on St. Paul campus

Rebecca Strauss shares two books she brought for one of two Little Free Libraries, as Amy Mars and Trenton Brager look on.
Rebecca Strauss shares two books she brought for one of two Little Free Libraries, as Amy Mars and Trenton Brager look on.
Photo by Melissa Kaelin.

The small gathering that began behind the Butler Center on Friday was one for the books — literally. Master of Library Sciences (MLIS) students from the St. Catherine University chapter of the Progressive Librarians Guild (PLG) met on Nov. 16 to install two Little Free Libraries (LFLs) on the St. Paul campus. 

With the help of Associate Professor of MLIS David Lesniaski, the students installed the LFLs in two locations: between the residence halls and the Butler Center, across from the ACTC bus stop; and by the gates on Randolph Avenue, on the sidewalk just north of the iconic iron gates. 

Free exchange of information

"The goal of the Little Free Libraries is to promote a conversation by having people put books that resonate with them into the libraries," said Trenton Brager, MLIS. "Then when someone else picks up the book, they will be able to understand that perspective."

The libraries are open to the St. Kate's community at large. Students, faculty, staff and alumnae are welcome to contribute to the books in circulation, as well as the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and community members throughout the Highland Park neighborhood.

"Take a book; leave a book if you've got one. Return it here, there, somewhere else," said Rebecca Strauss MLIS '15. "You never know what you're going to find, really. You might find someone's favorite book from childhood with a note in it."

Strauss said the contributions to the libraries don't even have to be books. They could be magazines, journals or any media that would hold up on the enclosed outdoor shelf.

"I've seen thousands of these go up around the country, so it's clearly very popular," said Lesniaski. "I think it speaks to the values that we in the Progressive Librarians Guild hold, for the freedom to exchange information and engage the community in conversation. That's what the PLG stands for."

As for what books go into the Little Free Libraries, the students said they are excited to see what will develop and they hope to see the LFLs take on a life of their own.

"It's going to be sort of organic," said Amy Mars MLIS '12. "We are hoping for a variety, and we hope that there will be some books focused on social justice, in support of St. Kate's mission."

Out of the woodwork

The Little Free Libraries have been a long time in coming. Plans for the libraries began early in 2012, when the PLG first considered the question of whether they could bring the trendy outdoor libraries to St. Catherine University.

"Little Free Libraries are a fairly recent phenomenon," said Strauss. "They've kind of been popping up all over the place. We started bouncing the idea around last spring and decided that's something the PLG should get involved in."

From there, the group took to the task of planning and building the little libraries. They worked with their faculty advisor, Lesniaski, to craft the unique structures.

In several sessions, students and faculty devoted time to measuring wood, sawing, building and sanding. The team worked with staff to plant the wooden posts in the fall, but after a blast of wintery weather, they had to wait until mid-November to screw the little libraries onto the posts.

Finally on Friday, the project came together, and the first books were donated.

It takes a village

The support of many people, from many departments on campus, contributed to the success of the Little Free Libraries.

MLIS students received support from Acting Program Director and Professor Emerita Mary Wagner, Dean of the School of Business and Leadership Paula King and the libraries at St. Catherine University. The group also said they could not have done the project without the help of Facilities Director Jim Manship.

Art Director Carol Evans-Smith contributed to the project by designing a sign, which was produced free of charge by Rick and Jillian at SourceOne Graphics. Lesniaski and Sue Gray, librarian at the Minneapolis campus of St. Kate's, have agreed to help manage the libraries, and Lesniaski also provided the carpentry skills that made the build happen. The project was funded by the Graduate Student Advisory Board.

While any combination of books could be submitted to the Little Free Libraries, Brager hopes the libraries will be filled with books that have a special meaning or significance to the reader.

"It is sharing ideas and sharing what is special to you with someone else," said Brager.

The PLG plans to install a Little Free Library on the Minneapolis campus of St. Kate's in spring 2013.

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Nov. 19, 2012 by Melissa Kaelin

See also: Business, Leadership, Social Justice, Students