LAFAYETTE — Small libraries may soon be coming to a yard near you.
University of Louisiana at Lafayette architecture students have designed and constructed small libraries capable of holding about a dozen books as part of a “libre livre,” or free book, competition. About 40 of the structures will be placed in residents’ yards as a way to build community and spread a love of reading, said Geoff Gjertson, associate professor of architecture.
The student competition was inspired by the Little Free Library, a nonprofit organization launched by Wisconsin residents Todd Bol and Rick Brooks. Bol created a free-standing miniature library as a memorial to his mother that sparked community interest. In about two years, the organization has grown to include more than 3,000 registered small libraries.
The university invited Bol to Lafayette to help judge 30 of the 90 top student designs on Wednesday. He said it marks the Little Free Library movement’s first design competition and credited students’ ingenuity in the designs they created.
His organization offers set designs for interested participants to order, but about 80 percent of the time people make their own libraries, Bol said.
As part of the competition, students were given a book title to inspire their design and encouraged to used recycled materials. Students had less than four weeks to design and construct the pieces, Gjertson said.
One of the top 30 designs has a wooden frame and built-in chair made of black strapping. When seated, a small shelf enclosed by frosted acrylic sliding doors hides paperback copies of Jack London’s “The Call of the Wild,” and Homer’s “The Odyssey.” Another wooden structure features a white-washed window pane as the door to its “library.” Some of the pieces were modern with posts made of metal or PVC pipes. Two of the libraries featured natural elements such as live plants and flowers that decorated the box that serves as the book enclosure.
Bol said he was inspired by students’ use of acrylic and how some students’ designs protected the interior of bookcase when opened. One piece used plexiglass to display art, which Bol said he’d also like to incorporate into future library designs.
Watching his idea become a movement is a bit like the scene in “The Wizard of Oz” where Dorothy oils the stiffened joints of the Tin Man, Bol said.
“She puts a little oil on the Tin Man and they start dancing,” he said. “It danced and communities like this have taken the lead.”
Soon, his organization will expand its “Small Towns” project and install libraries in small towns without libraries along U.S. 61, he said. That trip will end in New Orleans, where there are about 20 small libraries registered with his program, Bol said.
Each registered small library has a designated “Little Free Library” sign that also has the line, “Take a Book. Return a Book.”
The libraries are catalyst for interaction in neighborhoods and community connections, Gjertson said.
“Todd (Bol) says it’s like extending your front porch to the street,” Gjertson said.