Tiny campus library attracts patrons of all sizes

by | Jun 1, 2015

UMSL Professor Keith Miller recently installed a Little Free Library at the main entrance to Marillac Hall.
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University Child Development Center classmates Caroline (left) and London take turns selecting a book to take home from the Little Free Library in front of Marillac Hall on UMSL’s South Campus. (Photos by August Jennewein)

Books that had been piling up in Professor Keith Miller’s office at the University of Missouri–St. Louis for a few months are now flying off the shelf.

Miller, the Orthwein Endowed Professor for Lifelong Learning in the Sciences in UMSL’s College of Education, recently installed a Little Free Library at the main entrance to Marillac Hall.

Already a popular stop on South Campus, its collection of good reads has been in the works for a while – even before Miller joined the UMSL faculty two years ago.

“I had noticed one of these while wandering around Minneapolis, and I thought, ‘What a great idea,'” said Miller, whose coworkers in the E. Desmond Lee Technology and Learning Center and the University Child Development Center helped bring the idea to fruition at UMSL. “We’ve been very happy with how many of the kids’ books have been flying out of there.”

Office assistant Amber Bell-Christian has enjoyed watching the momentum for the library grow. She heads up a unique book-of-the-day feature that passersby may experience by pressing a button inside the library’s small door.

“It’s been very successful,” she said of the project as a whole. “It was Keith’s idea, and everyone helped out with the effort.”

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The Little Free Library includes books for all ages – and even a featured book of the day. Patrons may press a button inside the library’s door to hear a description.

A graduate of the nearby Normandy School District herself, Bell-Christian said the main goal is to ensure that children in the surrounding community have books to read. The Little Free Library is consistently stocked with books for all ages, but the ones for younger children go quickest.

“Keith has to constantly replace them,” said Bell-Christian, adding that her own five-year-old son is already regularly taking advantage of the collection. “Some kids, especially around the UMSL neighborhood, may not have library cards.”

Miller noted that the whole thing operates on the honor system. That’s in keeping with the national Little Free Library idea – “a box full of books where anyone may stop by and pick up a book (or two) and bring back another book to share.”

“You just grab a book, and if you’re finished with it, we hope you bring it back,” Miller said.

People may also place volumes for donation inside the library. Those books are then marked on the inside with a small College of Education tag and Little Free Library logo.

Miller noted that the University Child Development Center has been a critical contributor to the effort. UCDC sponsors a biannual Scholastic Book Fair where teachers and parents buy books for their collections, and UCDC opted to use some of the earned “book points” toward books for the new little library.

A number of UCDC parents have also donated to the cause by sharing books that their own children have outgrown. That’s resulted in “wagons full of books for Keith’s library,” UCDC director Lynn Navin said.

Miller also maintains a Little Free Library near the Saint Louis Science Center, a community partner in his efforts to help students of all ages become engaged with science, technology, engineering and math.

Both UMSL-connected book exchanges and countless others across the country and the globe are registered and pinpointed on Little Free Library’s interactive map.

The UMSL Experience

Evie Hemphill

Evie Hemphill