An idea whose time has come

Little Free Libraries allow readers to take a book or leave a book. The concept first started in 2009, when a Wisconsin man built a model in honor of his mother. (Courtesy photo)
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By Cher Gilmore

Not to throw shade on our wonderful Santa Clarita libraries, but there are other libraries I’ll bet you don’t even know exist — unless you’re one of the 16 families in the city who have them.

Here’s a hint: They look like oversized bird houses mounted on poles and placed in front yards near the sidewalk, for easy access. They might even be capable of luring both children and adults away from their tablets and smartphones and into a new world of reading actual books.

I’m talking about Little Free Libraries, built by book lovers who want to share their books and love of reading with their community. The idea is “take a book, leave a book,” although neither half of the equation is required; you can leave a book without taking one, or take a book without leaving one. That’s where these little libraries differ from large public libraries — they allow open sharing without any expectations or fines, and they help build community.

Little Free Libraries have only been around since 2009, when Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin, built a model of a one-room schoolhouse as a tribute to his mother. She was a teacher who loved to read. Todd filled up the little schoolhouse with books and put it on a post in his front yard. Before long, he was building them for neighbors and friends who saw it and loved the idea, and soon he was joined by University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Rick Brooks as a partner in this social enterprise.

The first official Little Free Library outside the Hudson area was installed on a bike path in Madison in the summer of 2010, where thousands of people would eventually see it. The two men continued to give away little libraries, and the demand for more grew, but small grants and informal partnerships helped them to keep up with the demand.

Then, when they received national media exposure in 2011, the number of libraries grew to nearly 400, and by the end of 2012 there were 4,000!

In 2012, Little Free Library became a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit organization and just kept growing. By 2018 there were 75,000 registered Little Free Libraries, and two months into 2019 there are already over 80,000 in more than 90 countries worldwide. It’s definitely an idea whose time has come.

Although Bol died in 2018, he remained true to his mission until the end: “I really believe in a Little Free Library on every block and a book in every hand. I believe people can fix their neighborhoods, fix their communities, develop systems of sharing, learn from each other, and see that they have a better place on this planet to live.”

On the Little Free Library website (littlefreelibrary.org) there’s a world of information about how to build and register (or purchase) your own little library — including blueprints, building plans, and how-to videos — at minimal cost. If you build your own, your main cost would be materials that could range from $5 to $150, plus a one-time payment of about $40 to register each library you build. With registration, you get a sign engraved with your unique charter number, which allows you to add your library to the world map if you wish. If you purchase a little library ready-made, your registration and charter sign come with it.

It’s easy to find libraries on the website’s world map — search by city/state/region, ZIP code, country, steward’s name, or libraries near you. If you want to find all the Little Free Libraries in the Santa Clarita area, you’ll need to search individually by city: Santa Clarita, Saugus, Canyon Country, Valencia and Newhall. If you want to be inspired and feel a sense of caring community, just click on individual libraries to read descriptions and see pictures of them, like these two touching examples:

“I have lived in this house my whole life. My town, my community and the people in it mean a lot to me. Since my kids were born over 20 years ago, I have seen the importance of literacy. Sharing this library with my neighbors fills me with joy.”

“…I’m charmed and delighted every time I come across a Little Free Library in our area, and thought we could spread the love in our neighborhood by building one and placing it in our front yard. Love, Thy Neighbor.”

And that’s the spirit of Little Free Libraries. Wouldn’t you like to have one in your yard — or visit one near you?

Cher Gilmore loves books, libraries and reading, and lives in Newhall.

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