By Julie Newton
The Emory Libraries Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Committee recently launched a pilot DEI “Little Free” Library, as a compliment to the library’s “Confronting Racism” initiatives. The DEI Education sub-committee’s initial idea was to claim a bookshelf in the Robert W. Woodruff Library’s staff room for a space to donate and exchange books on the topic of anti-racism and social justice. Assistant Conservator and DEI committee member, Julie Newton reached out to the library’s exhibition team for simple signage reading: “Donate a book. Borrow a book. Share and discuss with family and friends, and keep the circle of learning about social justice going. All genres—including children’s books—are welcome.”
John Klingler, Exhibitions Designer and Fabricator, rose to the occasion, not only agreeing to design and produce the signage, but suggesting that we build a structure inspired by the many creative, free, outdoor libraries found in our community. Newton was delighted by this generous offer and countered, “In that case, can you make it an exact, small-scale model of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birth home (a National Historic site located at 501 Auburn Avenue, Atlanta)? Klingler not only designed and fabricated the amazing, tiny library, but donated some of the materials as well.
Despite limited staffing in the library due to the pandemic, there has been an active exchange of books so far, and unlike the rare, –often 16th century– books that Newton treats as a conservator, she can wipe down the covers of these donated books with disinfectant before staff members take them home to share. We hope that this DEI free library will inspire others to build and curate their own libraries, and “keep the circle of learning about social justice going.” Klingler has already envisioned an outdoor version of this library with a working porch light and other details faithful to Dr. King’s birth home.