CSU interior architecture and design and English students promote literacy in the homeless community through little library project

IAD Students working on the Little Library outside of the Catholic Charities building
Left to right, interior architecture and design students Natalie Meenach, Jimmy Day, and Macy Hubbard worked on the little library project. Photo credit: Maria Delgado

Education at Colorado State University prioritizes not only preparing students for their future but also providing an extraordinary foundation for giving back to the community through service-learning projects. 

This summer, three undergraduate students majoring in interior architecture and design worked closely with the CSU English department’s Community Literacy Center and Samaritan House Fort Collins to provide for the homeless community through the implementation of a little library. 

Samaritan House Fort Collins, located at 460 Linden Drive, is a part of the Catholic Charities of Denver that shelters, feeds, houses, educates, counsels, and provides emergency assistance across Northern Colorado. 

This organization continually provides those staying at the shelter with a variety of programs, including a partnership with the Community Literacy Center’s SpeakOut! Writing Workshops that feature the opportunity to write creatively; one dedicated SpeakOut! writer noted the lack of local and accessible libraries, it inspired the center’s intern Marcela Berger to start planning and this student project emerged.

IAD Students working on the Little Library outside of the Catholic Charities building
Bethany Bray of Catholic Charities, center, collaborated with the students. Photo credit: Maria Delgado

The students and Maria Delgado, assistant professor in the Department of Design and Merchandising at CSU, along with Tobi Jacobi, the director of the Community Literacy Center, met with Samaritan House Fort Collins in May to discuss the potential of implementing a little library right outside of the shelter, fulfilling the need of a local library for the community that is staying at this shelter.  

The Little Free Library organization seeks to establish locations where community members can pick up a book or leave one for someone else to enjoy. The genesis of this program is to support literacy and access to books in communities where reading materials are scarce. In this case, the community is those affected by housing insecurity.

Literacy for all 

Those who stay at homeless shelters such as Samaritan House Fort Collins are not always surrounded by the same educational opportunities as other communities.  

“It’s a small-scale project, but it has a big, positive impact,” said Delgado.  

Construction concluded in August and the interior architecture and design students who worked on this project gained valuable, hands-on experience.  

“Designing and building something small that has such an impact on the community and knowing that this is what I’m going to be doing for the rest of my life is so amazing to me. I absolutely love that I get to create well-designed environments that help others have a better life, even if it is in a small way,” said Macy Hubbard, a junior studying interior architecture and design at CSU.

From planning to reality 

The little library was meant to be accessible to all, so when the students and Delgado began their planning, it had to revolve around a user-centered design experience. This included the little library holding over 100 books at a time and the incorporation of a design that is accessible from various heights. This element of design was added because of children staying at the Samaritan House Fort Collins along with an innovation that is focused on being user-friendly.

IAD Students working on the Little Library outside of the Catholic Charities building
Macy Hubbard and Natalie Meenach working on the little library. Photo credit: Maria Delgado

This project would not be possible without the students implementing the skills and knowledge gained from the interior architecture and design program.  

The most rewarding part of this experience was to have a tangible product at the end of the summer. So much of what we do in school is virtual and we never get to see a tangible result of our hard work, but to have a physical library to see and go back to time and again is very rewarding,” said Natalie Meenach, a junior studying interior architecture and design. 

This experience was impactful for the students, but also for the residents at Samaritan House Fort Collins. The Community Literacy Center worked to secure funding from a Fort Collins Rotary Club Grant and the English department’s Inklings student club to support the materials; they also collected over 100 books to launch the new resource.  

Being greeted with a Little Library speaks to our residents beyond having physical books on site,” said Bethany Bray, volunteer coordinator at Catholic Charities. “It demonstrates to them that we are a safe haven with a supportive team that cares about the humanity of each of our guests.”  

This project embodies CSU’s land-grant mission to engage with the community and promote using education to enhance the lives of others and represents a cross-college effort to meet a community need.

“Integrating these high-impact, extracurricular experiences for undergraduate students can really increase confidence and get students excited about how they can make an impact,” said Delgado. 

It was rewarding to see the finished product and understand that we got to be a part of a community,” said Hubbard. 

The Department of Design and Merchandising is a part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences. 

The Department of English and the Community Literacy Center are part of CSU’s College of Liberal Arts.