Now with over 100,000 registered libraries in 108 different countries, the nonprofit Little Free Library, centered around a “community gift-sharing network,” originated thirteen years ago in Hudson, Wisconsin.
Madison was the second city to introduce Little Free Libraries into the community and is making an innovative upgrade to a certain library.
A team of University of Wisconsin-Madison students saw an opportunity to expand the community effect of Little Free Libraries to provide other services for the community. This group of students placed a solar panel charging station on top of the Little Free Library in Madison’s Lisa Link Peace Park on State Street.
Savannah Ahnen, a sophomore studying electrical engineering and computer science, said that the addition of a clean energy charging station is simply an addition to the opportunities Little Free Libraries can bring to members of the community.
“Little Free Libraries are already pretty big in different communities,” Ahnen told The Wisconsin State Journal. “The add-on of putting a solar panel on top of this is sort of just adding on to the effect a Little Free Library can have on a community.”
The students involved hope that their project, which they were able to build with less than $300, can serve as an example for future projects and model the practicality of renewable energy.
“We really wanted this to be kind of a beacon for renewable energy,” said Stephanie Bradshaw, a Ph.D. student in atmospheric and oceanic sciences. “To kind of shed light on energy as a whole and how we think about energy, and that there is a way to use solar to do the things that we are used to doing, like charging our phones.”
The solar-powered Little Free Library aims to provide energy to underserved communities and homeless populations.
Brenda Konkel, an advocate for those experiencing homelessness, told The Wisconsin State Journal that homeless people rely on their phones to contact emergency services, outreach resources, friends and family. The opportunity to charge their devices can be limited because publicly accessible outlets are often turned off.
“If you’re sleeping outside at night you want to have a phone if something happens,” Konkel said. “Your phone is your lifeline when you’re homeless.”
Bradshaw was drawn to being a part of this team because of its goals oriented around clean-energy accessibility.
“Clean, renewable energy is increasingly important for all members of our community, regardless of socioeconomic status, in the face of the climate crisis,” Bradshaw told The Daily Cardinal. “Any project with goals along these lines is admirable in my opinion, so it is a privilege and a joy to be a part of this team.”