Take a book, leave a book at a Little Free Library
July 2, 2012
By Jennifer Kresse
It was a public radio segment earlier this year about the Little Free Library (LFL) movement that inspired Humboldt Park School principal Georgia Becker to become a “little-librarian.” Becker was intrigued by these free lending libraries, the size of a dollhouse, stocked with books that people could take for free. She learned that they were popping up all over the United States and in other parts of the world, including Australia, India, Ghana, Italy, Germany, and England.
The first Little Free Library was built in 2009 when Todd Bol decided to honor his late mother, a former teacher, by building a miniature library to place in the yard of his Hudson, Wis. home. The same year Bol met Madison-based Rick Brooks, an outreach program manager for the UW Division of Continuing Studies. They found they had a lot in common and began talking about ways to enlarge upon Bol’s mini-library idea.
The sense of community involvement shared by Bol and Brooks is reflected in the way the LFLs work. Anyone can take a book for free from the libraries and anyone can donate books at any time. There is no limit on the amount of books that can be taken or donated.
By spring, Humboldt Park School had its own Little Free Library.
Response to the library has been positive. Students, parents, and neighbors regularly frequent the tiny library—some who have congratulated Becker for the undertaking.
Becker said the library seems to have become a meeting place for community members. “I think there’s something whimsical about the little library idea, maybe a throwback to past days when neighbors hung out on their porches and shared the day’s experiences with each other,” she said.
She thinks the LFL can demonstrate that ordinary people can contribute to the literacy of the community and that community is where to begin to build a better world. “This little tiny library is reaching out to touch a neighborhood, Becker said. “We are really the community’s school and what better way for a school to reach out to the community to share literacy.”
Becker said she finds her students perusing the little library’s offerings. “I love the excitement that our students have regarding the library… I sometimes have to shoo them into the school in the morning because they [linger], wanting to make just the right selection,” Becker said.
Becker said she is touched by the idea of children falling in love with books even with all sorts of electronic toys around them. “They seem completely enchanted by this little house that holds free books for them to keep if they want to, no questions asked,” she said. Recently a copy of Twain’s Huckleberry Finn was shelved in the little library. On the cover someone wrote, “I heart Huck Finn.”
Inventory for the LFL has taken on a life of its own. Becker said she’s amazed at the fast turnover. Full boxes of books have been dropped off just when the library was close to empty. “Sometimes I’ll leave school and there will be a full box. The next day it’s almost empty and I worry the project may run out of steam. I come back the next day and someone’s donated 20 books,” she said.
Books in the LFLs are free, but someone has to pay for the box. Becker, whose husband built the LFL at Humboldt Park School, estimates that materials cost around $80. The official LFL sells the boxes that cost $250, $400 or $600 for one of the novelty designs, one that looks like an old British red phone booth, for example. Also, Bol urges prospective little librarians to request a free, official charter sign and registry number from the LFL website. For $25, a Little Free Library will be added to the ever-growing registry of LFLs around the world. Registered Little Free Libraries are plotted on a map on the website. Listings include a photo of the LFL, its location, and contact information for the LFL’s steward.
More little libraries are in the works in the neighborhood. Bay View Neighborhood Association (BVNA) and the Bay View Historical Society (BVHS) have both mulled over the prospect of putting together their own little lending library. BVNA board member Teresa Crain said the group would love to add another LFL to the community, but funds could be an issue. “This is a perfect example of the kind of project we like to pursue. Combining it with an entity like a high school industrial arts program is even more in keeping with our overall philosophy. We’re not constrained by a lack of ideas, but a lack of unlimited resources,” Crain said.
Ron Winkler, Bay View Historical Society’s resident historian, said that BVHS hopes to have someone build a Little Free Library over the summer. They plan to put it on the front porch of the Beulah Brinton house on Superior Street, where BVHS is located.
Winkler said he noticed a little library in Kletsch Park and one near Grant Park. In the Bay View area there is one at 3255 S. Springfield Ave. and at 400 E. Plainfield Ave. The Plainfield Avenue LFL was built by Jack Roepke as a birthday gift for his wife Melanie. “Family and friends give us books to put inside and we buy some at rummage sales and thrift stores. My wife likes to make sure there are always high-quality children’s books because she knows some kids don’t have many books at home,” Roepke said.
Georgia Becker said the LFL has been more than worth the cost and would recommend the project to other groups considering it. Her advice to anyone thinking of joining the ranks of LFL proprietors, “Just do it! It really is a joyful effort.”
More info: http://www.littlefreelibrary.org
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