If you walk past a certain house in Hudson, Wisconsin, you might stop to glance at the odd wooden mailbox on the front lawn. Look closer, though, and you’ll see that it isn’t a mailbox at all. It’s a library: the first in a growing movement called the Little Free Library, and proof positive that wonderful things often come in small packages.
That tiny red schoolhouse on the lawn in Hudson began as a way to honour the memory of June A. Bol, a book lover and former teacher. As the Little Free Library site explains, June’s son, Todd Bol, ?built a miniature model of a library, filled it with books for anyone to take, and placed it outside his home.? Little did he know that this small gesture would spark a movement that has spread around the world.
After seeing the positive response to his small library, Bol contacted Rick Brooks, a friend who works in the Division of Continuing Studies at the University of Wisconsin. Together they realized the potential for a network of little libraries, and embarked on a mission to ?promote literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide.? Their goals: to ?build a sense of community as we share skills, creativity and wisdom across generations? and to ?build more than 2,510 libraries around the world?more than Andrew Carnegie!?
Lofty ambitions to fit into small wooden boxes, but the idea has struck such a deep chord in people that Little Free Libraries have sprouted around the globe. As Brooks told USA Today, ?Little Free Libraries can be found in at least 24 states and eight countries,? including England, Germany, and Ghana. Not bad for a small idea that began just two years ago as an 18-inch box.
But what is it about the Little Free Library that touches people so deeply? In this age of e-books and apps, the sight of the unique wooden structures certainly has an appeal based on novelty. (This USA Today photo gallery offers a glimpse of just how creative some library builders can be.)
The appeal goes well beyond novelty, though, and even transcends the basic goal of increasing literacy. Not only has the Little Free Library movement created a community of individual library stewards, it has also created new bonds among neighbours who, in some cases, had never even spoken before.
And that sense of community, of positive involvement, has grown beyond sharing books. In the interview with USA Today, Brooks noted that some Wisconsin prison inmates have started building the libraries, which will find their way to local communities. There’s also a project ?in the works in New Orleans to create libraries out of Hurricane Katrina debris.?
The libraries can also be a great way to share books on a particular subject. Or, near a college or university, to share textbooks you no longer need. QR codes and stickers can be placed inside the books to identify them as part of the Little Free Library network. This helps ensure that books aren’t easily resold, and that borrowers uphold the spirit behind the idea.
For those who want to get involved (whether building, borrowing, or donating), the project’s founders offer building diagrams on their site, as well as a map that tracks the location of official Little Free Libraries locations, with new ones sprouting up all the time. Brooks and Bol also encourage using green or recycled materials in your library.
S.D. Livingston is the author of several books, including the new suspense novel Kings of Providence. Visit her website for information on her writing (and for more musings on the literary world!).