Project Guide: Little Free Libraries / Libros Libres

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project guide

dallas | houston | rio grande valley

Little Free Library opening at the Moorland YMCA : June 2015

WHAT IS LFL/LIBROS LIBRES? Free outdoor libraries are an increasingly popular tool for encouraging vibrant, connected public spaces and increasing access to books. In Dallas, the Little Free Libraries/Libros Libres program brings together local artists, designers, and community leaders to design and build a range of public outdoor book exchanges in West Dallas, South Dallas/Fair Park, and south Oak Cliff. The design and function of the libraries are site-specific and developed through a collaboration between designers and community leaders. An emphasis on participatory design and programming at each step of the process makes this program unique. This process promotes community ownership, encourages frequent use, improves the built environment and ensures the longevity of each library. The global Little Free Library movement was the launching point for the project, with its low-resource, high access model to strengthen reading in neighborhoods. Little Free Libraries/Libros Libres builds on the idea of free book exchanges - which has seen tremendous success in suburban areas - and creates a process that results in high quality, functional designs in urban settings.


Take a book, leave a book Collaborative design process between designer and community members Public spaces that reflect community identity, culture, and/ or history Increased access to books and other free literary resources Creating spaces for interaction Communal control and use of the built environment

LFL BACKGROUND Little Free Library was start by Todd Bol and Rick Brooks in 2009 with a mission: • •

To promote literacy and the love of reading around the take a book, leave a book principle. To build a sense of community as we share skills, creativity and wisdom across generations.

Project Guide | Little Free Libraries/Libros Libres | 2

Little Free Library at the Lakewest YMCA : May 2014

HOW IS IT DONE? BUILD PARTNERSHIPS Seek out partners who share your goals and strengthen the process. The key to this is understanding your own resources, expertise, and experience so that you identify partners who will bring added value to the project. Little Free Libraries/Libros Libres began as a partnership with the Dallas Public Library, who provided books, meeting spaces, and community outreach, Big Thought, who provide expertise around arts programming, and buildingcommunityWORKSHOP, who provide technical expertise in community based architecture and creative placemaking. The second round of library installations was supported by The Real Estate Council with both financial support and the technical expertise of its members.

PARTNER ROLES The partners organize the project and ensure completion of the products at a high standard: • • • • • • •

Recruit stewards and designers Set and track budgets Facilitate community and design meetings Ensuring communication between designers and stewards Ensuring high quality design, construction, and installation Provide books and strategies for continued community engagement Document and publicize Little Free Library in Mill City: May 2014 Project Guide | Little Free Libraries/Libros Libres | 3


community meetings

confirm designers

generate interest

confirm stewards

designer recruitment personal outreach organizational outreach

design > peer design review > refinement present design to steward organize community & site permissions review and approve design identify & get permission for site

designer orientation

community design meeting

steward recruitment

broad community input & ideas general design activities

personal outreach community meetings

pair designer & steward shared interest needed skills


project partners

peer design review

designer engage with local community site specific design & planning

strengthen design community quality control

final site permission secure designers

steward and partners

final design share with community

secure stewards ensure communications

build & install Little Free Libraries/Libros Libres

design and construction quality control ensure permission

stock with books

provide funding provide books


steward education outreach & engagement tools for literacy document project

continue education & outreach ensure access to books evaluate outcomes

literacy planning




LFL/Libros Libres place making

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HOLD PUBLIC MEETINGS A key first step of the process if to hold public meetings to generate interest in the project and to start building relationships with potential stewards. Meetings should be brief, held in accessible public locations within the neighborhood, and used as an informal forum for asking questions and discussing the potential of the project.

RECRUIT DESIGNERS & STEWARDS After your initial public meeting, if there is interest from the community to move forward with the project, begin the process of recruiting stewards and designers. Start with individuals who attend the public meetings and then reach out to established community groups and neighborhood leaders. Contact local design firms and professional organizations to find interested designers. Ensure that all stewards and designers understand the parameters of the project and are committed to the process and desired outcomes. Be realistic when setting goals for recruitment and implementation.

HOLD DESIGN WORKSHOPS Before matching designers and stewards in one-on-one relationships, hold general brainstorming sessions around what a library could look like, how it will function, and who will use it. Bringing photographs of similar libraries or public spaces can be helpful in generating ideas and discussion.

PUBLIC MEETINGS • • • • • • • •

Hold in public locations Advertise through a variety of means, including social media and through partner networks Introduce project partners, be sure to share contact information Use engaging activities Bring maps to orient community members and suggest locations Bring project description and information sheets aways Encourage positive discussion and ideas Inform participants of how to follow the progress of the project


Organize activities and events around LFL design Communicate one-on-one with designer Identify site and receive permission to install structure Monitor LFL after installation


Serve as design and construction lead Communicate one-on-one with steward Prepare and share drawings for LFL that communicate the final design and the construction process Procure and assemble materials



Match designers and stewards to generate site specific designs for their intended location. This should include; site analysis, indepth discussions about how they would like the library to look and function, and outreach to a variety of community members to gain diverse input. After arriving at initial drawings, it is helpful for a range of individuals with varying skill sets to assess the drawings and look for ways to improve the structure. Keep the community informed of project progress and seek their input as the designs progress. Ensure that the location you have selected is appropriate by checking with local code compliance officer and be sure that you have the permission of the property owner and that they approve the final design.

• •

Involve community members at each step of the process to ensure that the end product reflects their values and desires. Ask questions: How would you represent the identity and culture of your neighborhood? What functions do you want the library to include? What do you like about similar places you have seen or visited? Consider materials, fabrication, and installation from the start of the process. Pay attention to accessibility, safety, and ability to withstand forces like extreme weather and vandalism.

Little Free Library/Libros Libres Community Design Meeting : 2014 Project Guide | Little Free Libraries/Libros Libres | 5

BUILD, INSTALL, AND CELEBRATE EVENT IDEAS Many designs in the past have been built around the re-use of an existing site detail or material source. Seeking out salvaged, recycled, and donated construction materials is a good way to lower costs on the libraries. Many businesses will donate materials for community projects. It may be helpful to provide the businesses with a handout explaining the project when soliciting donations. After everything has been carefully planned, pre-assembled, and pre-cut, schedule a build day for all interested to get together, bring tools, and participate in building the library. Plan a celebration with music and food to dedicate the library once it is complete and introduce it to the community. Continue to hold events to educate community members about the take a book, leave a book principle and to create a vibrant gathering places with the Little Free Library at its center.

• • • • • • • •

Build days Design & construction workshops to share skills used to build the library Opening Celebrations and Anniversary Ice Cream Socials Archiving workshops led by local librarians Self-publishing workshops to promote neighborhood artists and writers Steward breakfasts: meetups for stewards to share library ideas and experiences Book drives

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT? INCREASED ACCESS TO BOOKS Little Free Libraries/Libros Libres builds on the Little Free Library model by creating a collaborative design process that provides free access to books housed within high quality, custom designed containers. Each library is designed and built to be site specific in an urban context and meet the needs of a diverse set of users and literacy levels. As local experts, the Dallas Public Library and Big Thought identified a lack of access to books as a major concern, with only 29 branch libraries open on average 34 hours per week. LFL/ Libros Libres addresses this need by reducing the library to its bare minimum and creating an attractive, meaningful space for easily accessing books within a collaborative, communityengaged process.

SUPPORT COMMUNAL DESIGN AND CONTROL OF THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT Each library is a unique product resulting from a sophisticated coordination of multiple people, organizations and ideas. Each person involved was encouraged to bring their knowledge and experience to this process to create a significantly more impactful outcome than a one-size-fits-all approach. Design that starts with an assumption of local expertise that is equal to or more important than technical know how is the basis for the Little Free Libraries/Libros Libres program. The partnership between Big Thought, the Dallas Public Library, and [bc], along with the designers, stewards and local residents, would not have been possible without a strong desire to improve literacy outcomes, community cohesion and quality of life for a wide range of neighborhoods and end users.

CATALYZE NEW PUBLIC SPACES This community-based approach is necessary to create expressive designs that reflect each neighborhood’s identity, creating place. This process promotes community ownership, encourages frequent use, and ensures longevity of each library, improving the built environment alongside literacy in urban areas.

Avance Little Free Library : 2014 Project Guide | Little Free Libraries/Libros Libres | 6

ABOUT [bc]

The buildingcommunityWORKSHOP is a Texas based nonprofit community design center seeking to improve the livability and viability of communities through the practice of thoughtful design and making. We enrich the lives of citizens by bringing design thinking to areas of our cities where resources are most scarce. To do so, [bc] recognizes that it must first understand the social, economic, and environmental issues facing a community before beginning work. As the only community design organization working across Texas, [bc] is unique in its approach to community engagement. We form strong relationships through our collaborative design work, educational outreach activities, and social media channels, enabling us to engage with a broad segment of the population. The success of our work is contingent upon reaching those residents not typically sought out by the design and planning community. [bc] has been fortunate to receive several awards from AIA Dallas & LRGV AIA, the 2010 National AIA/HUD Secretary’s Award for Community-Informed Design and a 2011 National SEED Competition award. In 2013, [bc] was awarded the prestigious Rudy Bruner Award Silver Medal for the Congo Street Initiative. We were recently awarded the Texas Society of Architects Design Award for the La Hacienda Casitas. Little Free Libraries/Libros Libres was also awarded the 2014 SXSW Eco Place by Design award. [bc] was established in Dallas in 2005 and a field office in Brownsville opened in 2011, and a Houston office followed in 2013.

FURTHER READING “Little Free Library - Take a Book. Return a Book.”



Little Free Library at Village Oaks Project Guide | Little Free Libraries/Libros Libres | 7

buildingcommunityWORKSHOP 416 s ervay street dallas, texas 75201 214.252.2900 Project Guide | Little Free Libraries/Libros Libres | 8

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