Across America, little handmade libraries are connecting neighbors and renewing their interest in books.
While walking the dog or picking up your kids’ at school, or perhaps on your Two Lane travels out of town, have you, by chance, come across any colorful wood structures perched in yards? Maybe something that looks like an oversized birdhouse or a land-locked lighthouse? Some interesting little model with a surprise inside – books! Well if you have, you’ve stumbled upon a Little Free Library, a unique book exchange created in 2009 by Tim Bol to encourage book sharing and creativity without the burden of membership cards or due dates.
To honor his mother, a much-beloved educator, Tim built a mini schoolhouse out of an old garage door, filled it with books, and put it at the end of his driveway in a quiet Wisconsin neighborhood. The sign he hung on it read ”Take a book. leave a book.” And just like that, his Little Free Libraries were born, giving millions free, easy access to books, often for the first time since grade school. His simple gesture has spread into every state in America and to 80 countries around the world, and there are now more than 60,000 registered book-sharing boxes worldwide proving that in this screen-saturated digital world, there is still a love for, and now a place for, the written word.
Johannes Gutenberg invented the movable-type printing press in 1439.
Little Free Libraries, a nonprofit in Hudson, Wisconsin, hires woodworkers in Wisconsin and Minnesota to build beautiful wooden libraries and to fill orders that are now coming in at more than a thousand every month. Each mini-library is shipped to a school, business, or individual who has a passion to preserve the joy of turning an actual page in order to read a story. Once delivered and set up, each unique box is filled with donated books, the library always changing as each book is borrowed and replaced with another.
The first book ever written using a typewriter may have been Life on the Mississippi; the first novel was The Adventures of Tom Sawyer – either way, Mark Twain for sure!
Books are the original vessels that carry us to castles and mysterious lands. They’re portals we cross to transport our imaginations and influence our way of thinking. No download, wifi signal, or a battery charge required. It’s no wonder the book is always better than the movie! It’s because books allow us to interpret a story in our own way rather than simply ride along on someone else’s vision. (Think about that next time your kids ask for your Netlifx password. Hand them a paperback of “Treasure Island” instead!) Little Free Libraries reopen those possibilities, offering the joy of turning pages and creasing corners to folks of all ages. Even cooler, they’re creating new conversations between neighbors.
73% of people say they’ve met more neighbors because of these little libraries.
Too often we put up walls between passersby and ourselves because eye contact makes us uncomfortable or we’re too distracted by the podcast playing in our ear. These libraries are shifting that mentality and creating dialogues between neighbors and friends in the community who may otherwise have never met. It’s an open hand extended from the volunteer librarian to the community, and an invitation to come take a look inside.
You may happen upon a college student’s second-hand copy of “The Great Gatsby” or a garden club member’s book about native plants. Whatever catches your eye will be one of a kind because unlike anything in the local public library, each book comes with a personal recommendation from the donor. Some leave bookmarks, highlight their favorite quotes, or leave handwritten notes inside, addressed to the next reader and sharing how this book influenced them. Flipping through the books and finding those personal touches may be just the thing that inspires you to take that book home, tell a friend, and eventually donate a book that has meant something to you and may now enrich someone else’s life. (Chances are there’s more than one near you. Here’s a map to check!)
If you’re looking for a summer project to do with your kid pickers, grandkids, scouts, or whomever, we encourage you to go find some supplies in your garage or order one from Tim to customize and create a Little Free Library in your community. Your act of kindness is your pledge to preserve books while creating a conversation in your community!