Out of Office and In The Community: Little Free Libraries


Since we officially opened our doors to business in 2010, Studio Outside has strived to dedicate some of its time and talents to work outside of the usual office projects.  We’re working on the general goals and form of this initiative and while this is still very much in process, one goal has been clear: to root ourselves better within the local community where the office is located.  Being right across the street from Fair Park in South Dallas, we are very much in the midst of several diverse neighborhood communities and commercial corridors. These areas have varying access to design resources so digging into this area feels a great place to lend our talents of making better spaces to live in. With this broader goal in mind, it seemed very fitting to participate in the “Little Free Libraries: Libros Libres” project being sponsored by bCworkshop, Big Thought, and the Dallas Public Library which is outfitting two communities in West and South Dallas with a set of Little Free Libraries. 

Before diving into the good stuff, a little history and context on Little Free Libraries:

Little Free Libraries/Libros Libres is a literacy and community design initiative in Dallas that uses free book exchanges to build community and promote a culture of reading. Part of the Little Free Library movement, started by Todd Bol and Rick Brooks, these small neighborhood book shelters operate under the guiding principle of “take a book, leave a book.” The project makes books available through a sustainable, low-resource, high-access model that supports the health of the neighborhoods by fostering collaboration and relationships. Dallas citizens will work alongside artists and designers to plan, design, build and sustain Little Free Libraries, creating new outlets for accessing books that reflect their neighborhoods. The sustainability of the libraries depends on including and engaging neighbors and leaders within each community to work collaboratively to develop the project and steward the libraries, promote habits of literacy locally, and build a culture of reading.

Little Free Libraries/Libros Libres is a joint project facilitated by Big Thought, bcWORKSHOP and the Dallas Public Library, and is realized in collaboration with Little Free Library, a Wisconsin non-profit, which has registered more than 10,000 book exchanges across the world since 2009. Examples of Little Free Libraries from around the country project area include West Dallas & South Dallas

The project will focus on the neighborhoods in the Lincoln and Madison (South Dallas) and Pinkston (West Dallas) high school feeder patterns, DISD’s Imagine 2020 schools. Twenty free-exchange libraries (10 each in South Dallas and West Dallas) will be designed and installed in neighborhoods in March through May 2014, beginning with an open public meeting and culminating in a communal Build Day. Designers will be chosen through a competitive process and will work collaboratively with community members to design, build and install the libraries. Community members will steward and maintain the libraries after installation. Through this project, a set of findings will be produced to serve as a guide for future development for sustainable, neighborhood-based literacy projects.

Studio Outside team members Amanda Frey and Jessica Pfeffer work with steward Ms. Alendra at a community design charette.  Image by bcWorkshop.

Generally the process looks like this:  A designer team pairs with a library steward team (likely a member of the local community) to develop a little free library to be placed at the steward’s location.  A few members of the Studio Outside team, with several voices contributing within the office as a whole, have been attending a series of community meetings, designer gatherings, and information sessions.  In a community meeting hosted at the beginning of April we found ourselves working with Ms. Alendra, the president of the Mill City Community Association (a neighborhood practically in our backyard).  While the meeting was by happenstance, it turned out to be a very fitting relationship given that Ms. Alendra had the goal of installing a Little Free Library in a vacant lot she owns that she has been planning to turn into a community garden.  In a quick conversation, it seemed fitting: in digging our heads out of the narrow focus we sometimes find ourselves in, our skills that we use every day in our work could be helpful and timely for our neighbor.

Some quick sketches from the community meeting looking at site, context, and conceptual ideas. 

Studio Outside team members Allison Baker, Jessica Pfeffer, and Amanda Frey pin up inital sketches at a designer charette hosted by bcWorkshop.  Image by bcWorkshop. 

The design of our Little Free Library is in progress and we look forward to installing it on May 17th, on grand opening day for the project.  There is more to come on this project, but for now please enjoy a few sneak-peak sketches on our progress!