Small, But MightyPosted by admin on 11/16/12 • Categorized as Fall/Winter 2012
Little Free Libraries are reinvigorating communities, one free book at a time
By Erin Johansen’91
Several years ago, Rick Brooks’69 found himself asking this question: “How, particularly in this political climate, can we get people to talk to each other?” He knew others were grappling with the question, too.
He found the answer in books.
Specifically, books that people exchange free of charge, often with perfect strangers in the most unexpected places.
Brooks co-founded the phenomenon known as the “Little Free Library” as a way to get people talking to each other. And over the last three years, it’s done that and more, touching lives in ways he never imagined.
“We had no idea how profoundly this would inspire people to act on their yearning for a sense of community,” he says. “We sort of thought it was the books and the little structure—we didn’t realize what a yearning was out there. Most people get a kick out of sharing what they value. Everything doesn’t have to be a monetary exchange.”
These libraries are small, handcrafted, free-standing structures that provide a place where people can leave and take books on almost any topic and for all ages.
In 2009, co-founder Todd Bol built the first Little Library in memory of his mother, a teacher. Since he placed it in the front yard of his Hudson, Wis., home that same year, thousands of Little Free Libraries have sprouted up in the United States and across the globe.
Brooks’ organization has donated numerous Little Libraries and individuals or groups have either purchased or built them. And despite their diminutive size, these Little Free Libraries have spawned stories of epic proportion.
Brooks and Bol met through their mutual interest in sustainable communities. When Bol’s initial library, shaped like a one-room schoolhouse, attracted much more attention than he expected, he and Brooks decided to expand on the idea. They placed a second Little Free Library in Madison, Wis., off a major eastside bike path in the fall of 2009.
In choosing the location, which is flanked by community garden plots and a local business district, Brooks tapped Meghan Blake-Horst, gallery manager at Absolutely Art, a key business in Dane Buy Local, an alliance of 650 Madison-area independent businesses he co-founded in 2004.
“They came to me and told me their idea,” Blake-Horst says. “I loved it. That same day they asked if they could install one in my backyard at the store to show people. They also asked if I would join their advisory board. I love the literacy, art, sculpture, community combination of the Little Free Library program.”
Blake-Horst liked the idea so much she also installed a library in the front yard of her Madison home.
“We get so many visitors and folks that stop and look,” she says. “It is a great way to meet new people that would not have stopped and chatted with us normally. I have a chalk box next to my Little Free Library, and I often come home to ‘thank you’ notes or great drawings from visitors.”
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