This is an update of an ongoing obsession, one I documented nearly four years ago with a post entitled “Literary Mushrooms: Little Free Libraries Springing Up.” If you have not seen it, it is well worth a look, as it includes an essay from a “Little Free Librarian” of my acquaintance, Ann Lacy. She writes about the impulse to plant a book-sharing site in her front garden and about the care and feeding of it.
The Little Free Library movement was begun in 2009 by Todd Bol in Hudson, Wisconsin, with a single structure designed to honor his mother. Since then, the idea has clearly become a global not-for-profit community literacy phenomenon with real staying power. People love reading and want to share that love with others. The official website has some pretty spectacular maps and statistics, as well as plans for building your own, photographs of examples, and links to purchase both libraries and plaques.
While perusing their website recently, I learned that according to a survey of 3,000 Little Free Library stewards and fans conducted just last month (October 2017), 74 percent report that they have read a book they would not normally read because they found it at a Little Free Library; 73 percent say they have met more of their neighbors due to the presence of a Little Free Library; and 92 percent say their neighborhood feels like a friendlier place because a Little Free Library is present. I also learned that as of a year ago there are more than 50,000 such Little Free Libraries world-wide!
Above are three images of a delightful example Julia and I discovered this past summer in Appleton, Wisconsin. Below are some images friends (and devoted readers!) Bill and Beth Clary took in their new community of Newburyport, MA, and even one Beth spotted on a recent trip to the Czech Republic in an old city called Kutna Hora.
I have been wondering why this movement is so moving to me. And I have come to see each of these as outposts of civility, generosity, kindness, trust, and literacy. All too often it can seem that contentiousness, querulousness, duplicity, paranoia, and misspelled tweets hold sway over public discourse–even though I do not encounter these qualities very often in my own daily rounds, these deadening trends flow through every news cycle. Yet, every time I spot a Little Free Library, I feel uplifted. In the images that follow, there is a gallery of good will. These were taken in Northfield and in places I have traveled in the past three years. And, if you have the patience to scroll to the very end, you will see a special adaptation of this trend that goes a step beyond into the realm of random kindness.
Here is one on my usual walk to the Northfield Public Library, and below, another from my neighborhood (where I also spotted the bumper sticker!)
These others are farther afield in Wang’s Woods.
Here are some from near Lake Harriet in Minneapolis, our old neighborhood.
And here are some from St. Paul on Grand Avenue near Macalester College and on Randolph Avenue.
Here is one we found in Winona, Minnesota, when we attended a Great River Shakespeare Festival performance of Richard III on the Winona State University campus.
Here are two views of the one greeting shoppers near the garden entrance to the St. Peter Food Co-op. (Note the clever roof shingles made of old license plates!)
Here is one on Cathedral Hill in St. Paul maintained by Moscow on the Hill Restaurant.
Here are two views of the whimsical one in the parking lot of the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis.
Here is one near another place we used to live, on Penn Avenue South in Minneapolis.
Here are three images of a special one in Grand Marais, on Minnesota’s North Shore. Not only does it have a stellar view of the North House Folk School and beyond to Lake Superior, it has sections for all readers and can be opened from front and back.
Here is one sited near a senior apartment building in the little western Minnesota town of Lake Crystal.
Here are a couple in the very center of the tourist town of Decorah, Iowa, just a block or so from the famous Vesterheim: The National Norwegian-American Museum and Heritage Center.
Here is one in the one park of the tiny Minnesota hamlet of Fountain near the Root River bike trail.
Clearly, each one is different, and each one makes a difference–rather like us.
This adaptation is just a few blocks from my house, outside of St. John’s Lutheran Church. I spotted it when Tim and I attended the annual members meeting of Just Food Co-op. Here is a close-up of the inspired and inspiring signage.
So, every time I see one of these Little Free Libraries, I am reminded of how I am free to be a little more kind and giving, a little more free-handed, and a little more creative in how I make a difference in my own corner of the world. And also I am reminded of the sheer fun and pleasure of reading and writing and sharing words and pictures!
I close this with two images I took this summer from the Walker Art Center Sculpture Garden of a sculpture by Theaster Gates honoring St. Laurence, the patron of librarians and archivists.
Happy Reading! Happy Fall!