Joy O'Brien installs a Little Free Library at Gluck Park in Niagara Falls.

As part of her capstone course, Projects in Public Health, Niagara University senior Joy O'Brien decided to install Little Free Libraries throughout the city of Niagara Falls, N.Y., to increase and promote children's literacy. Working with her course professor, Dr. Mark Gallo, and their community partner, Brian Archie from Create a Healthier Niagara Falls Collaborative, O’Brien was well on her way to construct six libraries, which serve as neighborhood book exchanges and operate on a "take a book, leave a book" basis.

And then the coronavirus pandemic forced her to leave the Niagara University campus and return to her home in Blairstown, N.J.

At first, she wasn’t sure how she would be able to complete the project before the semester ended. But with Dr. Gallo’s encouragement and Archie’s experience in establishing Little Free Libraries through his own project, Pampering Patty’s Book Corner, O’Brien was able to continue working to identify locations and obtain the necessary materials to install the libraries. She also secured funding for building supplies and six library charters from the Niagara University chapter of the Lions Club.

“The charters make every Little Free Library ‘official’ so that they can be added to the world map on the Little Free Library website,” said O’Brien, who is outgoing president of the club. “I am so grateful to the NU Lions Club! I really couldn't have done it without their support.”

When she returned to campus to gather her belongings from her residence hall, O’Brien stayed in Western New York to help with the actual installation of the libraries she worked so hard to create.

“I've been very impressed with Joy's leadership and her follow through, especially in this highly unusual semester,” noted Sharon Green, coordinator of instructional services in NU’s Academic Success Center and faculty advisor for the NU Lions Club.

O’Brien hopes that her libraries will make a difference in the lives of Niagara Falls children by instilling in them a love of reading. She also anticipates that her project is just the start of this effort.

“The one thing that is so great about this project is that it will never be considered ‘complete,’" O’Brien said. “There will always be something to do, whether it's looking for a new installation space or maintaining the current Little Free Libraries. The project doesn't end just because I am finished with my academic career at NU.”

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