On March 6, Little Free Libraries in Armenia, an initiative started in 2015 by Laurie Alvandian and Nina Romá Agvanian, launched a crowdfunding campaign to fund the building, painting, and installation of at least 40 Little Free Libraries throughout Yerevan, the Armenian Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabagh), and each of Armenia’s 10 provinces.
Little Free Libraries are free, public book exchanges, usually located outside in accessible public spaces. While they come in all different shapes, sizes, and designs, they usually resemble small wooden boxes or “houses.” The concept was started in 2009 in the United States, and has since spread around the world. There are now over 50,000 Little Free Libraries in over 70 countries. The motto of Little Free Library is “take a book, return a book.” Anyone in the community is welcome to take a book from the library or bring a book to place in the library for someone else to read.
In 2015, Laurie and Nina received a Next Step Alumni Fund grant from Birthright Armenia to build 15 Little Free Libraries in Armenia. In July 2016, with the help of Four Peaks Landscape + Architecture, the first official Little Free Library in Armenia was installed on Arami Street in Yerevan. Since then, Laurie and Nina have installed two more libraries in Yerevan, have attracted over 1,600 Facebook followers, and have at least seven exciting library locations scheduled for installation in spring/summer 2017, including Dilijan (Cafe #2), Kapan (ARK Armenia), and more.
Laurie, a librarian from the United States, and Nina, a social worker and artist from the United States and Spain, both came to Armenia in 2014 to participate in Birthright Armenia, an organization that brings young diasporan Armenians to Armenia to work as volunteers. They had never met before, but quickly bonded over their mutual love of books and sharing stories. After several months of living in Armenia, they agreed that they felt a deep connection to the country and that they wanted to move there permanently and create something meaningful together.
Laurie and Nina had both come across Little Free Libraries in their home communities, and agreed that the project could be a very accessible, high-impact initiative that would yield a lot of positive results in their new home. In the context of the rapid change that they noticed taking place in Armenia, they also noticed a lack of access to books and information for themselves, their peers and their communities, despite a growing reading culture. Thinking about ways to be a part of the change in a country they had come to care deeply about, they conceptualized Little Free Libraries as a way to contribute to community development through information and book sharing. Additionally, amidst hopelessness and stories of corruption that they heard from local friends and family, they wanted to find a way to reignite hope ad empower people.
After checking the official map of registered Little Free Libraries around the world, they saw that no Little Free Libraries appeared in Armenia. It was then that they decided to put Armenia on the map.
The main goals of the project are: to provide free and easy public access to information, promote reading culture, preserve and celebrate the Armenian language, attract book-loving tourists, and encourage community development, all while engaging local and diasporan artists to contribute beauty to Armenia’s public spaces.
The overwhelmingly positive response that Laurie and Nina received from the community after the first official Little Free Library was launched in Armenia has encouraged them to now set their sights even higher. Their $15,000 crowdfunding goal aims to ensure that Little Free Libraries will live a long and healthy life in Armenia, and covers the costs of building, painting, and installing 40+ Little Free Libraries, storing them until installation, transporting libraries to regions around the country, purchasing additional books for the libraries, creating a website, shipping books from donors overseas, and more.
Any funds raised beyond the initial goal will be put towards the newly established Open Book Initiative, an NGO started by Laurie and Nina in 2017 that is dedicated to the promotion of literacy and access to information in Armenia through implementation of initiatives and educational programming related to access to books, libraries and library resources, reading, languages, and the literary arts.