(Above, Jim Rozelle unveils the little free library he constructed for the GRU Literacy Center, while members of the Daughters of the American Revolution look on. A gallery of photos follows at the end of this article.)
On Feb. 10, Georgia Regents University dedicated its newest community library, which features no checkout limits, no late fees, and it isn’t much bigger than a birdhouse.
The Little Free Library, a public, free-standing library housed in a weatherproof birdhouse on the front lawn of the GRU Literacy Center, offers a variety of books for the community to borrow. Based on an honor system of “take a book, leave a book,” the libraries encourage users to choose a book to read, then return the book and select another – or leave a new book. The center aims to keep the library stocked with bestsellers, children’s books, and young adult novels to encourage reading.
“This movement to provide free access to books at the neighborhood level is one of the most powerful movements in literacy today,” said Dr. Paulette Harris, Cree-Walker Endowed Chair in Education, who founded and runs the Literacy Center. The Little Free Library network was started by a Wisconsin man who wanted to honor his mother, a retired schoolteacher. The first library went up in Hudson, Wis., in 2009. Today there are an estimated 11,000 little libraries in 52 countries. The GRU little library is registered with the national network at littlefreelibrary.org, and will be included on their map.
“We hope that the great benefit is that more people will read,” Harris said.
The project is a true community partnership, completed with the funding support of the College Hill Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, constructed by members of the Men in Mission group at Wesley United Methodist Church, and stocked by retired GRU professor Dr. Elige Hickman and his wife, Norma, a retired Columbia County school librarian.
The Daughters of the American Revolution adopted the Literacy Center as part of its commitment to literacy promotion, said Lee Carmichael, Committee Chair for Literacy for the College Hill Chapter, who is also a retired Richmond County English teacher.
“After I was appointed, I began looking for things the D.A.R. could do for the center that would be visible,” Carmichael said. She pitched the library idea to Harris, and then contacted Wesley United Methodist Church to request carpentry help.
Jim Rozelle, a member of the Men in Mission group at Wesley UMC, agreed to help. He has been involved with Friends of the Columbia County Library in the past.
Well-known for his artistic wood-turning skills, Rozelle used reclaimed and recycled materials, including an old hickory log that he sliced into siding, to construct the little library. Along with Paul Schantz and Lou Bandy from his church group, they sank the support post for the little free library and mounted it on its post.
Dozens attended the dedication. While news cameras rolled, Rozelle unveiled the structure, to applause; while Harris read “The Reading Mother,” by Strickland Gillilan, a poem about instilling a love of reading in children. Literacy Center volunteers served cake and beverages to the crowd while the library’s shelves were stocked for the first time with a selection of books for children and adults.
According to Georgia’s Task Force on Adult Literacy, one out of three adult Georgians is functionally illiterate. In the Augusta area alone, statistics show that there are more than 65,000 adults whose basic educational levels are less than those of the average eighth grader. These citizens have difficulty performing everyday tasks that most adults take for granted. This may include shopping, reading signs on the roads and buses, and completing job applications. Thus, the Literacy Center and its free library are important assets in economic development and educational attainment in the CSRA.