February 16, 2018

Outdoor Libraries Honor Detroit’s Closed Branches

Lincoln Library outdoor libraryStudents from Detroit’s Marcus Garvey Academy and the University of Michigan collaborated to create outdoor libraries. The filled bookshelves, installed on April 11, are intended to call attention to branch closings by the Detroit Public Library, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Melanie Manos, a lecturer at the university’s School of Art & Design, spearheaded the project as part of a class she teaches called Detroit Connections. The college students work with fourth graders to do art projects. “I usually do a variety of projects,” Manos told LJ, “but when the libraries closed at the beginning of the semester I talked to the college students about, do you think there’s something we can do working with the children to continue the dialogue, so it doesn’t get forgotten?” (In December, the Detroit Library closed four branches due to ongoing budget woes.)

Manos said it was the college students who came up with the idea for the outdoor libraries. The fourth graders painted the banners and bookshelves, and the college students divided into committees to solve practical problems, like keeping the banners from blowing down and weather-proofing the bookshelves. (They ended up putting plexiglass doors on the shelving units.)

The books to fill those shelves were donated by a combination of local individuals, the Detroit-based publishing company Omnigraphics, and the university’s Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives.

The class made six libraries; four for the closed branches and two extras placed in park areas where children play, said Manos.

“We wanted to be respectful of the libraries,” said Manos. “We did put a couple right on library property, but not right in front of the door or anything. I hope they won’t take umbrage. We won’t be able to monitor them as much as libraries do. The main motivation was to encourage the reopening of the libraries.”

When the semester ends (next week for the college students, and June for the fourth graders), the outdoor libraries will continue. “They stay as long as they can survive,” said Manos. “The best scenario would be that area residents sort of adopt them.” But unless and until that happens, she and a few others plan to monitor the installations and see when they need more books.

student painting bookshelves

A fourth grader from Marcus Garvey Academy paints shelves for an outdoor library

“I want to keep replenishing them, because we’re fine if people want to take [the books] and keep them,” said Manos.

For the moment, at least, finding enough donations to fill those shelves is unlikely to be a problem: Manos said that since the libraries made their debut she’s been getting many calls from people who want to donate books.

And though the class is almost over, the outdoor library project is not. “I’m looking to expand the project and do them together with local residents,” Manos told LJ.

Manos has not yet run a class or workshop with any of the 20 public library branches that remain open, but said that’s “probably one of our next steps.”

Meredith Schwartz About Meredith Schwartz

Meredith Schwartz (mschwartz@mediasourceinc.com) is Executive Editor of Library Journal.



  1. Thank you for the article Meredith! You explained the project well and I’m glad you were able to include the images.