PAREN(T)HESIS — Access to Books

October 1, 2017

By Jill Rothenbueler Maher

I think the Bay View neighborhood must have one of the highest densities of those small book giveaway spots called Little Free Libraries. If you aren’t familiar with the concept, think of a glorified birdhouse mounted on a post near a sidewalk, but filled with books. Once you know to look for them, you’ll spot them all around our neighborhood, including the fire station on Kinnickinnic Avenue. The “take a book, leave a book” concept fits the mindset here of neighborliness and the belief in thoughtfulness and literacy.

Little Free Libraries are open around the world and I was delighted to learn that the idea started in Wisconsin. Todd Bol of Hudson built a structure to trade books as a memorial tribute to his mother. He eventually teamed with Rick Brooks of Madison and Little Free Libraries began to spring up. The ones dotting Bay View are fascinating because the style and shape of them are unique — some even tricked out with interior lighting. Many include children’s books, and at least one has a dedicated children’s section. The Little Free Library site has a map with registered libraries, but it isn’t a true guide to those in Bay View. You’ll find many unregistered ones if you explore our streets.

Another popular way to get free books in our area is, of course, to use one of our traditional libraries. Bay View and Tippecanoe are within reach for most of us, and St. Francis and Cudahy are close. And Tippecanoe is now open on Saturdays! One of my favorite “mom tricks,” when our daughter was younger, was to visit the library website and use my card to request books be held at Central Drive-Up. This technique avoided getting a little one out of the car and then carrying her through a parking lot into a building, especially in winter. Children can also use their school library.

Next Door, a Milwaukee nonprofit that supports Milwaukee’s central city, reports that the number of books available to a child may surpass all other variables in predicting their long-term success in school. They operate a long-running Books for Kids program.

Given the abundance of books in Bay View and the importance of reading for scholastic success, it’s heartbreaking to know that the situation is very different in other neighborhoods. The creator or “steward” of a Little Free Library on North 45th Street mentions that she is in a desert of Little Free Libraries and that the public library is over a mile away and getting there requires crossing busy streets. The situation makes me want to send her a check or help in some way, even though I know it’s not a long-term solution.

Here is a list of a few of the area’s Little Free Libraries with ample
children’s books or with a children’s section.

  • Humboldt Park Elementary School, 3230 S. Adams Ave.
  • Milwaukee Fire Department, 2526 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.
  • Private Home, 2785 S. Wentworth Ave.
  • South Shore Park (near playground), 2900 S. Shore Dr.

The author is a freelance writer and mother of one. Reach her with comments or suggestions at

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