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Judged by its cover: Top prize in Little Free Library design contest

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Little Free Library came to life in Wisconsin as a simple wooden box mounted on a post and holding free books, but a competition held at the University of New Mexico’s School of Architecture and Planning to design a Little Free Library for public spaces across Bernalillo County took the concept way outside the box.

Erica Aragon, a 22-year-old junior in the school’s undergraduate degree program, took the top prize this week with a modern steel design that holds 30 or more books in brightly colored triangular steel pockets.

“My main goal was to appeal to children, to make it colorful and fun,” Aragon said. “I think that literacy is important, especially for young children. It has a lot of color and hopefully it will spark their interest.”

Unlike public libraries that lend books for a certain time period, Little Free Libraries are stocked with books at the beginning, but then operate on a take-one/leave-one honor system.

Bob Shipley, a literacy tutor, helped to launch the competition to find exciting designs for a Bernalillo County project that will put Little Free Libraries throughout the county and UNM agreed to assign the library design to a studio design class, which produced 15 designs.

“We decided to create little libraries in the county because we recognize the connection between literacy and overall community health,” County Commissioner Debbie O’Malley said. Bernadette Miera, the county’s cultural services manager, said the top five designs will be built by the county and one will be placed in each county commissioner’s district.

Aragon, the daughter of a middle school English teacher, said she was excited to receive the recognition and a $200 prize but she is even happier that Bernalillo County will manufacture and install examples of her design, with doors added to protect the books from wind and rain. “In school, we design a lot of things that never get made, so to get it built is really cool.”