Sharing the love of reading in the neighborhood and around the world
“Take a book. Return a book.” It’s that simple. Book lovers in more than 70 countries have created their libraries in their front yards, in front of their stores, and in schools to share their love of reading with those around them.
It all started with a memory of a mother. Todd Bol built the first Little Free Library (LFL) in Hudson, Wisconsin to honor his mother, who had a passion for reading and books. Once Bol’s first LFL was built and put in his yard, neighbors and friends loved the idea and built some of their own. Three years later, LFL became a nonprofit organization headed in Wisconsin, and LFLs has spread quietly like wildfire across the globe. The idea that in five years more than 15,000 Little Free Libraries would spring up all around the world never crossed Bol’s mind.
Junior Elsa Ubel also has a LFL in her yard. “There was a Boy Scout who wanted to become an Eagle Scout and he asked us if he could put the Little Free Library up in our lawn,” she said. It has now been up about a year and has lots of activity, especially from dog walkers.
Owners of LFLs create their libraries for different reasons, but many of them are in honor of a loved one with a passion for reading. Ellen Westenburg, owner of a personal LFL, dedicated her LFL to her nephew who was killed in Afghanistan and officially opened it on Memorial Day this year.
Wendy Haan’s Minneapolis LFL is also dedicated to a lost loved one. Haan’s mother was reading until her last day at the age of 91.
“When asked what she did with her life, she would reply, ‘I was a reader!’” said Haan.
But not all LFLs are in honor of a specific person. Some honor a community. Karin Donaldson, California LFL owner, has lived in the same neighborhood for more than 30 years. As the years went along she realized some new families with children were moving in and having her own young grandchildren, she decided to build one.
“We thought the LFL would be a great focal point for the neighbors and children, and it has been,” said Donaldson.
Living Table United Church of Christ in Minneapolis has a LFL in front of their church. It started as a project for the children and youth but quickly became more , bringing the neighborhood and community around the church together.
“This was also a good way to connect with the neighborhood,” said Robin Jackson, the leader of the project. She said the neighbors enjoy having the LFL and there is a variety of people from both the church and community exchanging books which is fun to see.
Seeing people browsing the library is exciting for owners. They start to notice their “regulars” and always drop off and take similar genres.
“We also have one gentleman who reads a lot of mysteries which are my favorite so we exchange many of those as well,” said Westenburg.
As LFLs have been becoming more and more popular, reading is being promoted in ways never seen before.
“Remember, the library is intended for people to share the books they love that have touched them in some significant way,” said Haan, “As it is rare that we re-read the same book again , it makes more sense to share the treasured books with others.”