With the help of his students, a Mercer University faculty member plans to spruce up some of Macon’s Little Free Libraries this fall. But, he needs a little help from the community before the work can begin.

Dr. Tom Bullington, lecturer of liberal arts, designed a service-learning project revolving around these outdoor book-sharing boxes for his Integrative Curriculum (INT) 201: Building Community courses in fall 2020, and this will be the third semester his students have worked on it.

Divided into groups, the students catalogued books that were donated and taken from the Little Free Libraries, restocked the boxes when needed, analyzed how effectively the libraries were serving their community, and used their data to prepare an IMRAD (introduction, method, results and discussion) essay.

With feedback from his students, Dr. Bullington adapted the project for the spring 2021 semester. Students worked with eight Little Libraries instead of six, and they began monitoring their assigned library on the second week of class instead of only for the last five weeks.

“As a result, they had better data, and they also had better literature reviews,” he said.  

Now, he’s working with Dr. Kathy Kloepper, vice provost of engaged learning and director of Research that Reaches Out; Hannah Vann Nabi, associate director of the Quality Enhancement Plan; Frani Rollins, assistant professor of communication studies and theatre arts; and James Ogden, technical director of theatre and lecturer of stagecraft, to expand the project even further for the upcoming semester. 

Tom Bullington
Dr. Tom Bullington

“We are going to have my INT students work with students in the stagecraft course to do more substantial repairs. This isn’t going to be the same level of repair for all of the libraries,” Dr. Bullington said. 

While some of the libraries have been well-maintained, others have fallen into disrepair. One box needs its shingles fixed, another is missing its door, and others have doors that are not hanging properly anymore. One doesn’t see much activity because it doesn’t have a window showing what’s inside it, and another has a wasp nest in it. The Little Free Library by the Macon Dog Park once had a wood cutout of Snoopy and Woodstock on top but was vandalized a few years ago. 

Before any repairs or updates are made, Dr. Bullington needs to find out who owns or created these eight libraries, which isn’t a simple task. Little Free Library locations can be registered and listed online for a fee, but none of the boxes he’s working with are on the map. 

“If we’re going to be doing this direct level of engagement with the community, we need the community’s input and permission,” he said. 

Dr. Bullington is asking for the community’s help in finding out who’s in charge of these library locations:

1. Tattnall Square Park, near the playground
2. Tattnall Square Park, near the entrance to the tennis center building
3. Behind Centenary United Methodist, near the community garden
4. Inside the dog park at the corner of Adams and Chestnut streets
5. Across from the fire department on Oglethorpe Street
6. On the corner of Orange Terrace and New Street (810 Orange Terrace)
7. In Bernd Park, near Temple Beth Israel
8. On Ridge Avenue, between the intersections of Ridge and Ingleside and Ridge and Tyrone (3355 Ridge Ave.)

Anyone with information is asked to email bullington_tl@mercer.edu by August. Students will still catalog, observe and restock their assigned libraries if owner permission is not received, but Dr. Bullington hopes they will all have the opportunity to make repairs as well. 

He is also in need of book donations to help students restock the Little Free Libraries this fall. Books can be dropped off at donation boxes in the lobby between Ryals Hall and Langdale Hall on the Macon campus until early October. He’s looking for fiction titles for elementary and middle school-age children and young adults, as well as adult general interest books. Books should not be geared toward an academic audience.

Dr. Bullington hopes to see the library repairs completed by the end of the fall semester, although some of the boxes could take a little longer. For the next phase of the project, he’ll have students move farther out into the community and propose new locations for Little Free Libraries or Little Free Pantries, in which nonperishable foods and personal care items are donated/distributed through boxes.

“I want students to come out of this project knowing the difference between individual acts of philanthropy and systemic change,” Dr. Bullington said. “A whimsical box for exchanging books is charming, but it’s no replacement for a professionally staffed and well-funded library.”

Malia Ayers, a sophomore education major, checks the inventory at the Little Free Library near the playground at Tattnall Square Park.
Malia Ayers, a junior education major, checks the inventory at the Little Free Library near the playground at Tattnall Square Park in fall 2020.


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