Don’t fear the reader

Thanks to the Little Free Library program, an educational initiative with the mission to “promote literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide,” now Plaza visitors can read The Prize Winner, and so much more, with the installation of a movable kiosk in the district. It was such an easy process to get one in that Kristen Vails, executive director of the Plaza District Association, is surprised more area neighborhoods aren’t doing the same thing.

“The Neighborhood Alliance of Central Oklahoma put out a call to neighborhoods, asking if they would be interested in having a Little Free Library in their neighborhoods, as part of the national program,” Vails says. “They hooked up with the American Institute of Architects, Central Oklahoma Chapter, and they had us fill out a form.”

She applied and, when selected, was introduced to Ken Fitzsimmons and Karl Wolf at TASK Design. Vails
and the TASK team worked to come up with a concept for the design and
make sure it fit in the neighborhood.”

Fitzsimmons
and Wolf came up with a design that represents the Plaza District’s
unique artistic sensibilities, and from there, the kiosk was produced by
Artform. Walking down N.W. 16th Street, its eye-catching design is not
only hard to miss but irresistible; it makes you want to investigate.

“We
just let TASK run with it,” Vails says. “They’re very skilled at what
they do, and we wanted them to be able to put what they felt the Plaza
District would reflect in a library into it.”

The finished product was a sleek, bright yellow pillar.

“It has a lot of energy, and the modern design of it lends itself to the flavor of the district,” she says.

There’s
a slot for where the books go in the library, and the top can project
images and words out onto the concrete at night during events.

“We
can put in a video, art installations or photography and project that
out onto the concrete,” she says. “It serves more than one purpose.”

So
while it serves more than one purpose, the main purpose— to get people
reading again—can’t be forgotten. The idea is very simple: you take a
book, you bring it back. Or if you like a book, you replace it with a
different book. Or you can just leave a book of your own, maybe
something that you feel should be passed on.

It’s an idea that has caught on with Plaza-goers, and a recent survey of books yielded such titles as Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Carrie Fisher’s Wishful Drinking, Terry Pratchett’s The Last Continent and, just to show variety, Alan Dean Foster’s novelization of the 1984 motion picture The Last Starfighter. In other words, people aren’t using it as a dumping ground of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books or old copies of Prevention Magazine. Vails says the response has been so positive that she’s hoping the area merchants jump on the book bandwagon too.

“I’m
actually very surprised with how full the library is and how much it’s
changing. There are new books almost every day,” she says. “It’s kind of
fun to see what people are leaving and taking.”

The library was designed so that it could move around in the district.

“We’re
really hoping to partner with our businesses here and have them be in
charge of stocking the library,” she says. “So let’s say Urban Wineworks
wants to take it over for a month. Maybe they’ll put in books about
making wine.”

Who
knows what book will show up next in the Little Free Library? It might
just be your new favorite novel, or maybe that one book you’ve been
wanting to read and didn’t want to pay for. Either way, it’s a fresh
approach to literacy that is worth checking out.

“I
think our district is really one of the most walkable urban areas in
Oklahoma City, and I think having a Little Free Library in the district
really enhances that,” Vails says. “It’s fun for people to be able to
walk and grab a book. Then they can sit down on a bench or go to the pie
shop across the street and read the book. Where else in the city can
you do that?”

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