Little Libraries

In the U.S., April 3-9, 2022, is National Library week. In honor of this, here is a repost about Little Libraries I wrote for UntitledTown.

When I was a kid, I used to beg my parents to take me to the library – probably every day. Of course, this wasn’t always possible despite their willingness to feed my book addiction. So when the city bookmobile started making a stop at the other end of our block, they were thrilled. Every week, I walked down the block with my arm full of books and exchanged it for another pile that I would haul back home. The driver and I were on a first name basis, and he would even take requests and bring books he thought I would enjoy.

These days, bookmobiles are a thing of the past (well, they still exist, but are few and far between). Life-sized libraries still exist, and the librarians who work in them are still magicians – but we can’t assume that everyone has access. 

Did you know that research shows that children who grow up without access to books are, on average, three years behind when starting school than those with access? While libraries do amazing work to help bridge this gap, they can’t reach everyone.

With this year’s UntitledTown theme of community, we couldn’t possible not talk about the man who made it his life’s work to get books into the neighborhoods (and hands) of those that didn’t have easy access to books and, in many cases, libraries. That man, from Hudson, WI, was Todd Bol. In 2009, he built a model of a one room schoolhouse, filled it with books, and placed it in his yard – providing 24/7 access to books to those in his neighborhood. People loved it so much that he made more and gave them away to this friends and family to set up in their own yards.

What started as a tribute to his mother, a teacher, quickly became an inspirational goal. Along with Rick Brooks from UW-Madison, Bol aspired to fund the creation of 2,508 Little Libraries by the end of 2013. They ended up achieving that goal a year and a half early, turning their work into a global book-sharing movement.

Though Bol passed away in October 2018 from complications of pancreatic cancer, the non-profit organization he launched remains active. In the days leading up to his death, he noted, “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.”

As of last year, a decade after Bol built and placed the first Little Library, there are over 90,000 registered Little Libraries in over 90 countries.

Though he spent the last decade of his life as the creative force behind the Little Library movement, he was also a teacher, a lifelong entrepreneur, a father, and a husband. “He was the best, most generous, goofy, and kind person,” his son Austin noted. “He taught us to be kind to others. To many he was an innovator and genuine change maker. To us, he was dad. We will miss him always.”

2015 marked the debut of The Little Free Library Book, written by Margret Aldrich, and published by Coffee House Press.

Here are a couple pictures of some of my favorite libraries:

Campground in Manitoba Canada
Honey Bee Island – border between Ontario and NY
Worcester Massachusetts Bookmobile

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