Little libraries with big goals

Little Free Libraries aim to improve community engagement and literacy awareness

All around the world there are free little libraries that have created a movement focused on improving literacy and inspiring imagination in communities.

In the U.S., the nonprofit organization Little Free Library has created a 24/7 neighborhood book exchange.

Margret Aldrich, the media and program manager at Little Free Library and author of "The Little Free Library Book," said the libraries are scattered through the world as well.

“Across the U.S. and around the world, we see people using Little Free Libraries to inspire readers, increase access to books, build community and express their creativity," Aldrich wrote in an email to The State Press. "There are now nearly 70,000 Little Free Libraries worldwide in all 50 states and 85 countries." 

Aldrich also said the libraries are meant to bring people together. According to a 2017 survey conducted by Little Free Library, 92 percent of people said that having a Little Free Library in their neighborhood makes it feel like a friendlier place.

In the Valley, Little Free Libraries have inspired ASU student Gloria Martinez, a junior studying art with an emphasis in printmaking. Along with other artists, Martinez spent two months designing a little library which was recently bid at the Scottsdale Culinary Festival as part of a charity project with Southwest Human Development.

“The libraries promote developing early literacy skills for people who may not have access to books,” Martinez said.

Martinez was born in Mexico and migrated to the U.S. undocumented when she was a child. However, through former President Barack Obama’s 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy she was able to go to school, receive a license and work. 

As a first-generation college student, Martinez values education and literature and uses her art to express that.

“I was inspired by my parents who do not have an education and taught themselves to read and write,” Martinez said. 

In 2005, she graduated with a degree in nursing from a local community college, but because of her immigration status she was not able to get a career in that field.

Art then became Martinez's outlet and she started making and selling jewelry. Two years ago she decided to pursue a degree in art at ASU.

“My work includes my experience and the morals that my parents have instilled in me,” Martinez said.

When designing her little library, Martinez put a lot of thought into its design and artistic elements as well as how the library would fit in with its surrounding environment.

“I wanted to incorporate symbolism and the idea behind it was about learning and how it is important to read and how it impacts people," she said. "I used a monarch butterfly to symbolize migration."

Martinez is focused on community-based art and printmaking for various reasons.

Printmaking has this history of putting out and voicing opinions to a mass community," she said. "I feel like it is the artist's responsibility to be the voice because art always carries a message with it.” 

Martinez also said she wants to use her art to help people connect and to better live in the moment since she believe that art can relax and inspire everyone.

Kathleen Kennedy, lead library information specialist, has been working in ASU libraries for 10 years and is in her third year of working in the Downtown Phoenix campus library.

Kennedy said the campus library in Downtown Phoenix has had a book exchange shelf for eight months now which allows students and faculty to freely exchange, take or share books.

“We have a free-flowing concept — people can come in, you don’t have to be an ASU student to use it," Kennedy said. "This is a way for the community to come on campus and read something they normally would not. Most of what we do is academic support, the book exchange is a way for students to take a break from all the stress and read a novel that they are interested in."

On ASU's Polytechnic campus, the campus library has had a book exchange shelf for nearly a decade.

Darla Winfrey, a library operations supervisor, has been working with the ASU Polytechnic library since 2005. 

Winfrey said, before the book exchange shelf, the Polytechnic Library “did not have a lot of fun reading books, most were educational and classroom setting books.”

She said when the exchange first started most of the books put on the shelves were brought from Goodwill or one's own home from the campus' librarians. She said having these book exchanges creates opportunities for students to learn about different points of view.

“Reading allows you the opportunity to look at different scenarios and views," Winfrey said. "The more you read, the more your vocabulary increases, and having something in your hand and connected with it is a huge difference. When you are turning a page you become a part of the book. You are physically interacting and almost have a relationship with the book."

Reach the reporter at or follow @masaihunter95 on Twitter. 

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