Lifestyles: Size Doesn’t Matter When You Want Great Reading
By James Rada, Jr.
The Little Free Libraries phenomenon, celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, now can be found in every state and roughly two dozen countries.
Four years ago students at North Hills Elementary in York gathered for the unveiling of a castle with turrets and flame boxes—their Little Free Library. It was one two libraries that fourth graders at the school spearheaded.
“The whole school was there, and they were beaming with pride,” said Katie Hartman, the students’ teacher at the time.
A look back
The Little Free Library movement began in 2009 with Todd Bol in Hudson, Wis. He built a model of a one-room schoolhouse and filled it with books as a way to honor his mother, a teacher who had loved reading. The idea was an immediate hit as friends and neighbors began borrowing and returning books. Sometimes they returned the same book they had borrowed; other times it was a different one. The idea soon spread, and now Little Free Libraries can be found in every state and roughly two dozen countries.
While you can buy plans and kits to build a Little Free Library, some people take a decidedly original approach and choose to build libraries that reflects their personalities. Hartman’s students, in fact, spent months planning what they wanted their Little Free Library to look like. They designed it and created specifications. High school students worked on their project with them, and it slowly came to life.
In our communities
Dana Stuchul of State College had someone she knew build her Little Free Library to look like a barn. Other Little Free Libraries in the region include a Harry Potter-themed one in Gettysburg, a crooked house in State College and one that repurposes a newspaper box in Scranton. Stuchul said she installed her library because “I wanted to inspire a little giving and receiving in relation to a very large garden where the Little Free Library rests.”
Most tend to resemble an oversized birdhouse with a large glass door in the front to give a peek at the books inside. For their second Little Free Library, Hartman’s students wrote an essay that won them a grant from the Little Free Library organization. The organization sent them a completed Little Free Library that was installed at John C. Rudy Park in York.
The underlying idea behind little free libraries is to give people easy access to books to encourage them to read. Little Free Libraries can’t replace public and school libraries, but they can supplement them, giving children and adults more ways to get their hands on reading material and their noses buried in books.
Finding joy in reading
Hartman says she is “a big believer in finding joy in reading.” She assigned her students a project to find a way to get books into the hands of people. Little Free Libraries were one of their solutions.
Little Free Libraries can be found in gardens, on street corners, in parks and any place where people might pass by. The Little Free Library at John C. Rudy Park is at the corner of a parking lot next to a playground and walking trail. The castle library is located inside the school where hundreds of students pass it every day. Little Free Libraries are open 24 hours a day unless they are located in a place with restricted hours, and although they are usually located outdoors, you can visit one in the rain or during a snowstorm if you choose.
“It’s another way to engage with neighbors,” Stuchul said. “When I see someone using [the library], I will start talking with them, but the conversation doesn’t stay on the library.”
Hartman said she often hears people talking about the two libraries her students erected.
One of the nice things about the Little Free Libraries is that the books each one carries can be tailored to the preferences of the person running the library.
However, as patrons leave behind new books, users may find the types of books shifting to reflect user tastes rather than that of the owners. Hartman said she had noticed some books in foreign languages, such as Russian, appearing in the library, which typically carries a lot of books for children and young adults. Stuchul’s library tends to carry more fiction.
“When we replenish the books, we put in more nonfiction, but there seems like it winds up with more fiction,” Stuchul said.
Ideally, once stocked, a Little Free Library should operate on its own as each book that is removed is replaced by another book. Weller said that she occasionally checks to make sure that there are enough books and sometimes to add new books.
Around the world
There are more than 50,000 registered Little Free Libraries in more than 70 countries that loan millions of books annually. Besides being erected by individuals, organizations have also undertaken supporting projects. The State College Rotary Club, for example, has installed eight Little Free Libraries in State College.
If you are traveling and want to see if there is a Little Free Library near you, search the Little Free Library website (littlefreelibrary.org) by town or zip code to find the closest libraries near you.
Jim Rada Jr. (JamesRada.com) is a freelance writing living in Gettysburg.