Little Free Libraries

Take a book, leave a book

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

What looks like a miniature house, is bursting to the rafters with free books, and encourages reading for everyone from kids to seniors?

The answer, if you hadn’t already sussed it out from the title of this story, is Little Free Libraries (LFLs).

The worldwide phenomenon started in 2009 after Wisconsin resident Tod Bol built a model of a one-room schoolhouse as a tribute to his mother—a former schoolteacher with a serious reading habit—and then installed it in his front yard, filled it with reading material and hung a sign that read “FREE BOOKS.”

Five years later, the LFL movement has grown by leaps and bounds. Currently, there are more than 16,000 Little Free Libraries in 72 countries, with new ones sprouting up on the daily.

In fact, Bellingham alone has 11 official LFLs, with small structures to be found on Chuckanut Drive, 14th and 17th streets, Parkhurst Drive, King Street, South Hills Drive, Washington Street, Northwest Drive, Durbin Court, James Street, and Walnut Street (see the website at the end of the story for addresses).

At the Walnut Street locale in the Columbia neighborhood, Jenny and Scott Bowefield have been stewarding their Little Free Library for about a year.

“Scott saw an article in the paper about them and cut it out to show me,” Jenny Bowefield says. “He also shared the article with my parents and was interested in building one. My dad took it on to make him a library for a Christmas present. Now I think he’s made a total of four (three of them were sold in the Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship auction as a donation). My dad is proud of our model in particular because it has a solar light that is activated when you open the door at night.”

Bowefield says they started their LFL with a theme of Newbery Award-winners, but people were so excited to donate that the books in the library soon grew beyond that scope. She says they cull the reading material from time to time to “get rid of the Danielle Steels and such,” but that the library is otherwise self-regulating.

When asked why she and her husband added one more thing to take care of in their busy lives, Bowefield says they thought it was a great way to build community.

“That is what we get, community,” she says. “It is so fun to see people drop by to check. It has started many friendly conversations.”

And, besides having to occasionally restock the books or trim the schmaltzy donations, Bowefield says they haven’t really had any problems besides a one-time incident where the books were pulled out and dumped on the wet sidewalk.

And, unlike the recent case where a boy in a small town in Kansas was forced to relocate his Little Free Library from the front yard to his family’s garage after complaints about the “illegal detached structure” were brought to the city’s attention, Bowefield says they haven’t had any complaints about theirs.

In fact, she thinks those who are intrigued by the “take a book, leave a book” philosophy behind the Little Free Libraries should look into building one of their own. 

“I would encourage book lovers to get their own library,” she says. “It is so much fun to share a good book. People should know that the books don’t come back very often, so don’t put in your only copy of your favorite book. Also, expect donations from other enthusiasts. We have also had religious flyers and brewery ads left inside. It is good to check it out every once in a while and be selective.”

For more information about LFLs—including how to build them, stock them and get them on the World Map of Little Free Libraries—go to http://www.littlefreelibrary.org

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