By Eric Wilson-Edge
It’s no secret, we live in a digital age. Our reliance on computers and smart phones has changed the way we interact with the world. So how is it, in this time of high technology, that a (sometimes) wooden box has captured the imagination of millions?
“We think the primary reason is a combination of a yearning for a sense of community and also a desire to be part of something positive,” says Rick Brooks, co-founder and Program Director of Little Free Library.
The organization started in 2009 with one library in Wisconsin and has since grown into a global community of more than 15,000. The premise is straightforward: take a book, leave a book. There are no cards, late fees or quiet signs.
Eileen Connor needed something to do. She had just retired from Garfield Elementary School where she worked as the school librarian. “I have a friend on the east side and she had a library,” says Connor of her inspiration.
Connor takes me to her garage. She shows off the work bench she built herself from plans off Pinterest. She flips a switch and a neon flamingo atop the bench comes to life. Connor has no previous building experience and admits to a learning curve. “Putting the hinges on was the hardest part. Off and on, off and on,” she says.
Connor’s library sits at the end of her driveway on Giles Avenue. It’s painted blue and on the back is a quote from Voltaire. “There’s a book in there right now that we bought in 2008 and gave out,” says Connor. “It came back to us.”
Debe Edden and Keith Eisner had someone build and decorate their Little Free Library. Edden first learned about the movement in the newspaper. She presented the idea to her neighbors on Foote Street at the annual Labor Day block party. “Everyone pitched in money,” says Edden.
The response has been pretty incredible. “Almost every other day I go out and see someone getting a book and it’s not just people we know,” says Eisner. Some may find it difficult to have strangers approaching their house. So far it hasn’t been an issue. “People have been very respectful,” says Edden.
This feels a little strange to say but books and Little Free Library have achieved rock star status. Not too long ago books – the ones with binding and paper – were written off. The future belonged to electronic devices. Why the sudden resurgence? “There’s a nostalgia and personal satisfaction associated with holding a book in your hands,” says Brooks.
Maybe. I grew up in the era of the non-chargeable book and the old technology is still my preferred choice. At the risk of sounding like a grumpy old man, these kids today have so many options and yet they visit Edden and Connor’s libraries on a regular basis.
Little Free Library has tapped into something. During my interview with Rich Brooks he told me about a family in Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood that coordinated bicycle tours from one Little Free Library to another. This spring two women are riding from Colorado to Wisconsin. Along the way they’ll visit Little Free Libraries and write poetry.
This kind of dedication and passion is normally associated with football fans, not avid readers. I think some of it has to do with personality. Little Free Libraries come in all shapes and sizes. Edden and Eisner put hula hoops on their library and have added a notebook for people to leave comments. Some libraries are robots, others roosters and some are pretty complex. “One of the libraries is actually an interactive kinetic statue,” says Brooks. You turn a crank and a book falls out.”
In the end I guess “why” doesn’t really matter. People are excited and they’re reading and they’re excited about reading.
To learn more about Little Free Library including how to get started building your own visit the organization’s website by clicking here. Make sure to search the map to find a library in your area.