UW-Madison students expand Little Free Library services by going solar

With more than 100,000 registered libraries in 108 different countries, the non-profit Little Free Library, centered on a “community gift-sharing network,” began thirteen years ago in Hudson, Wisconsin.

Madison was the second city to introduce the small free libraries to the community and brings an innovative upgrade to a certain library.

A team of students from the University of Wisconsin-Madison saw an opportunity to expand the community effect of small free libraries to provide other services to the community. This group of students placed a solar panel charging station above the small free library at Madison’s Lisa Link Peace Park on State Street.

Savannah Ahnen, a second-year electrical engineering and computer science student, said the addition of a clean energy charging station is simply one addition to the opportunities that small free libraries can offer community members.

“Small free libraries are already big enough in different communities”, Ahnen told the Wisconsin State Journal. “Adding a solar panel on top of this only adds to the effect a small 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 it to be some sort of beacon for renewable energy,” said Stephanie Bradshaw, who holds a Ph.D. student of atmospheric and oceanic sciences. “To shed some light on energy as a whole and how we think about energy, and that there is a way to use solar energy to do the things that we have habit of doing, like charging our phones.”

The small, free, solar-powered library aims to provide energy to underserved communities and homeless populations.

Brenda Konkel, a homeless advocate, told the Wisconsin State Journal that homeless people rely on their phones to contact emergency services, nearby resources, friends and family. The ability to charge their devices may be limited as publicly accessible sockets are often turned off.

“If you sleep outside at night, you want to have a phone if something happens,” Konkel said. “Your phone is your lifeline when you are homeless.”

Bradshaw was drawn to this team because of his focus on clean energy accessibility.

“Clean, renewable energy is increasingly important to all members of our community, regardless of socio-economic status, in the face of the climate crisis,” Bradshaw told the Daily Cardinal. “Any project with objectives in this direction is in my opinion admirable, so it is a privilege and a joy to be part of this team.”

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Christy J. Olson