Kat Jorgensen ’24 peers out her Campus Town apartment window and delights in seeing people down below standing at the Metzger Drive bus stop, leafing through books they grabbed from the new Little Free Library there.
Jorgensen loves books. She’s an English major who aspires to get an advanced degree in library science. She interns at the Library of Congress, and she works at TCNJ’s Gitenstein Library. But this Little Free Library is special. Because she and her friend David Roberts ’23 put it there.
“We’re passionate that reading should be for everybody,” says Jorgensen. “In our small way, this is how we opened doors to literacy.”
The pair got the idea to bring a Little Free Library — small, public boxes that serve as free book exchanges where anyone can take or leave a book — to TCNJ last summer as they drove around their South Jersey hometowns checking out the free libraries that have sprung up in recent years. “We played around with the idea that we should do this on campus,” says Jorgensen.
Roberts, a political science major and president of Pi Sigma Alpha, knew the honor society had access to national funds. “He’s the mastermind of everything,” says Jorgensen, “and he just started writing grant proposals.”
Susan Scibilia, program assistant in the political science department, says the students’ initiative is unusual in that they wrote the proposal, prepared the budget, and worked with campus facilities for installation. “Typically, students partner with a faculty member on grant proposals, so the student-led aspect of the grant and project is unique.”
They received grants from both Pi Sigma Alpha and Jorgensen’s English honor society Sigma Tau Delta to place two Little Free Libraries on campus (the second one is by the Social Sciences Building, facing the Brower Student Center). Sharon Blanton, vice president of operations and Padraig Fagan, director of maintenance and grounds helped them secure the locations and install the two libraries, which are each bright blue boxes with two shelves for books.
Placement near the bus stop, in particular, was important to Roberts and Jorgensen. They wanted to reach people using public transportation and people who may not necessarily walk through the center of campus and those who don’t have access to take books out of the college’s library. “The little library system creates a social network of book sharing and book enjoyment,” says Roberts.
“It allows reading without worry of ‘Can I afford this? If I am late to return it will I get a fine?’” says Jorgensen. “And it’s fun to open a door, look and close. You don’t have to go inside.”
The students plan an official ribbon cutting for March 8, but have already seen a lot of interest in the project. An internal sensor that tracks when each library door is opened helps Roberts monitor how often the libraries are being used. He has also been taking frequent photos to document the types of books going in and out.
“The two Little Free Libraries represent the desire to share the love of reading in the TCNJ and broader Ewing communities,” says Scibilia. “The physical structures themselves create a small public space where students, staff, faculty, and visitors can interact, build community, and participate in civic life.”
— Kara Pothier MAT ’08