July 18, 2018 | ° F

Student sets out to build recreational library in Murray Hall

The take-a-book, leave-a-book library on College Avenue will be a space for literature enthusiasts to come together

Photo by Jeffrey Gomez |

A Rutgers student has made it her mission build a brand new community library in Murray Hall for students to read, hold events and collaborate. Her project was largely inspired by the unique culture of Demarest Hall.

A School of Arts and Sciences junior has made it her mission to transform the Writers House Lounge in Murray Hall into a take-a-book, leave-a-book library for the Rutgers community.

Already, Kristian Petillo has curated a collection of more than 600 books for the library from a wide variety of genres. Throughout the last month, she has also raised nearly $500 of her $1,000 goal on GoFundMe, which she will use to build shelves and additional amenities for the room.

Most of the books were donated through drop-off sites located in Murray Hall, Lucy Stone and the Writing Centers, she said.

“When I’m done, I’m hoping to have lined the back corner of the room with bookshelves to hold the amazing donations I’ve collected so far, as well as a projector so people can have movie nights or watch films assigned to them for class,” Petillo said. “I’m hoping to make a warm, welcoming space for people to hang out between classes, do homework, find mentoring and hold whatever events they desire.”

Petillo said she hopes to use the “Lost Library” space to encourage creativity through a variety of outlets, including spoken word poetry.

“The Rutgers poetry scene is rich and fantastic, but it is rather underground (as the best poetry scenes truly are) so I was hoping to create a space where students could dip their toe in the water in the light of day, and meet others with similar passions to team up with,” she said.

The project fulfills the final requirement of Petillo’s internship, but her inspiration goes much deeper than that. She hopes her contribution will help preserve the underground culture at Rutgers and benefit liberal arts students long after she graduates.

At smaller schools, Petillo said students have more opportunities to forge communities and make their school their own. But Rutgers is a large school with an extensive undergraduate population, and administrators often treat students without much regard for their individualized needs and interests.

“I must first say how much I love this school and how much I owe to its professors, but I also felt that Rutgers was never truly ours,” she said. “I am in no way saying we should have free reign and go crazy, but I also sometimes feel that Rutgers struggles to feel like a home, to feel like a place where you can really stake your claim for a few years and then pass it on to a new batch of students.”

She first became aware of this problem after seeing the recent changes in Demarest Hall, she said.

After serving on the student government in Demarest for two years, she fell in love with the culture and diversity that so uniquely contrasted the rest of College Avenue. The hall continues to host drag shows, philosophy clubs, basement shows and other countercultural communities — but Petillo described Demarest as the last of a dying breed at Rutgers. 

“Steadily, Demarest has been dying,” she said. “My freshman year it was so full of life. I remember all the doors being open. I remember the second-floor lounge being a literal philosophy salon, filled with passionate students arguing over the nature of reality and smoking out of the windows when the coast was clear. The walls of the painted room — a room in the basement where you can paint anything anywhere — were tattooed with song lyrics and mural-sized art pieces flowed right into each other.”

There was also an overt sense of pride that existed in Demarest back then, she said. Vandalism was a rare occurrence because the hall’s inhabitants felt such a close connection to the space and community that existed there.

“But that old group of Demarites graduated together over the next two years, and, as one of the young stragglers left in their wake, it is rather sad to see the hole they left,” Petillo said. “Rutgers filled Demarest with people who just want to be on College Avenue, not people who want to be in a place like Demarest.”

Despite this shift, Petillo quickly realized that there were still students at Rutgers who were in love with literature, art and philosophy — students who still needed a space to collaborate and feel at home.

This was what she hoped to foster when she set out to build the Lost Library.

“Unless people give a crap, get geeky and take some departmentally-approved risks, Rutgers isn't going to get better by itself. And everything can stand to get better, no matter what state it is in. We need more projects like the Lost Library, and by that I don't mean that we need more recreational libraries, I mean we need more students polka-dotting Rutgers with what they specifically love.”

Murray Hall is one of the oldest buildings in Voorhees Mall. It is the home of both the English literature and the creative writing programs and is known for its maze-like interior, which Petillo likened to the Lucy Stone building on Livingston campus.

“I named it the 'Lost Library' because, while it is actually located in a very easy room to find in the lowest level of Murray, right next to the big writing classrooms and the elevator, the basement of Murray itself is a labyrinth,” she said. “To get to the back offices, you must go down hallway after hallway, up and down stairs, trying not to get stuck in dead ends or get turned around. It's the type of architecture that makes you want to start a trail of breadcrumbs or bring a roll of yarn to mark where you've been before.”

Currently, the only existing take-a-book, leave-a-book library on campus is located on the second floor of Demarest Hall. Unlike the Lost Library, the Demarest library is designated more for academic books rather than “afternoon pleasure reading.”

“I really can’t say how grateful I am for the fabulous donations I’ve received. Some highlights are an original 1996 copy of 'Game of Thrones,' the entire series of the 'Raven Boys' by Maggic Stiefvater, more quick, fun adventure paperbacks than I can count, hardcover books with original dust jackets, some author signed books in amazing condition,” she said. “The library is also going to have a handsome political section and a fantastic spread of Stephen King’s works.”

Petillo’s current goal is to piece together $200 more in donations before April 12 in order to finish the project.

She said the fundraiser has already done better than she ever could have expected. She posted links to her GoFundMe on the Rutgers class pages and within days, her posts had collected hundreds of likes and shares. Students can track the Lost Library’s progress through the “Rutgers Writers” page on Facebook.

“I thought it would just fit to have a little shrine to reading right next to where we're growing future authors,” Petillo said.

Kira Herzog is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in political science and journalism and media studies. She is the news editor for The Daily Targum. Follow her on Twitter @kiraherzog1 for more.

Kira Herzog

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