*LITTLE FREE LIBRARIES ARE TAKING ROOT ON LAWNS*
By Ben Jones
February 28, 2012
MADISON, Wis. – Todd Bol wanted to honor his mother, a former teacher and book lover who died a decade ago. So two years ago, Bol built a miniature model of a library, filled it with books for anyone to take, and placed it outside his home in Hudson, Wis.
He says people loved it. "People just kept coming up to it, looking at it, patting it, saying 'oh, it's cute,' " Bol recalls.
From that idea, hundreds of similar Little Free Libraries are popping up on lawns across the country. They're tiny — no bigger than a dollhouse. Some look like miniature homes or barns. Others just look like a box on a post.
But they all hold books.
"Take a book, leave a book," says Bol, explaining in a nutshell, the basic concept of these tiny libraries.
After building the first library, Bol thought the idea had potential to spread. He contacted his friend Rick Brooks, who is an outreach program manager for the Division of Continuing Studies at the University of Wisconsin.
Together, they have helped launch a small, but growing movement.
The men provide logistical assistance and support to people who want to become mini-librarians. They have a Website, littlefreelibrary.org, that provides drawings people can use to construct the boxes. It also has a map that tracks the location of Little Libraries.
Today, Little Free Libraries can be found in at least 24 states and eight countries, Brooks says. He guesses there are 300 to 400 in existence.
"We are estimating that for every one we know about, there are two or three others being built," Brooks says.
Little Libraries can now be found on lawns from Oakland, Calif., to Yarmouth, Mass. Overseas, you can find them in places such as Berkamsted, England, Hamburg, Germany, and Accra, Ghana.
In Wisconsin, Brooks says prison inmates recently started building the libraries, which will soon be posted in several Wisconsin communities.
He says a project is in the works in New Orleans to create libraries out of Hurricane Katrina debris.
People who use the libraries don't have to have a library card, or follow any formal checkout procedure. The libraries have signs that simply ask users to return a book — there are no fines if they don't. Some people donate extra books, Bol says.
•In Flagstaff, Ariz., Brian Blue recently erected a Little Library on his cul de sac. "(The library) helps create a sense of community," he says
The library was a gift Blue made for his wife, and they are waiting for their first patron. One small girl recently examined the box, which contains books like Charlotte's Web, but she left without taking anything.
Blue plans to promote the library with fliers, and he hopes the girl will return.
•In Iowa City, Christine Rohret recently posted a Little Library that's made to look like a barn. It's made from century-old barn boards.
"I thought it was a great way, in a small way, to spread the love of literature," she says.
Rohret says a larger project will soon bring more of the libraries to her city. In the meantime, Rohret is waiting for a patron. "The neighbors are already asking about it," she says. "Cars driving by are slowing down."
•In Madison, Jenna Hansen has hosted a Little Library in her front yard for a year and a half. She jokes that she could add the title of "A little bit of a librarian" to her résumé.
"I have no idea how many literally thousands of books have been in and out of there," she says.
•In El Paso, Lisa Lopez, a librarian at Zavala Elementary School, says illiteracy is a big challenge for her border city.
"So I decided to install two (little libraries) here on our campus," she says. "Both are very much treasured. I'm getting books circulated like crazy."
Although there's a website promoting Little Libraries, the boxes are decidedly low-tech and word of their existence often spreads in a low-tech way.
Nancy Johnson of Madison was out of a walk when she happened upon a library in someone's yard.
"What a nifty idea that someone decided to share books," she says. "I love it. I like the sense of community, I like the concept and the comfort level of sharing reading materials."
Brooks says building these little libraries in an era of iPads and Kindles might seem like something of a counter-trend. But the libraries are personal and connect communities in a way electronic devices can't, he says.
"People tell us over and over, there's something about the physical feel about the book in your hands," he says. "It has meaning. There's a spirit that can't be found electronically."
Jones also reports for The Post-Crescent in Appleton, Wis.