What are these little boxes we see popping up around town?
Those Little Free Libraries you see nobly standing in front of residences and businesses in cities across the country and the world, including Kenosha (26), Racine (19), Winthrop Harbor (2) and Beach Park (1), proved to be a bit of a life saver for readers of all types and ages during the early-to-mid stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. When public libraries were forced to close, Little Free Libraries were open.
For the uninitiated, a Little Free Library is a “take a book, return a book” free book exchange. According to the Little Free Library website, www.littlefreelibrary.org, “they come in many shapes and sizes, but the most common version is a small wooden box of books. Anyone may take a book or leave a book to share. Little Free Library book exchanges have a unique, personal touch. There is an understanding that real people are sharing their favorite books with their community; little libraries have been called ‘mini-town squares.’”
Wisconsin is the proud home of the Little Free Library concept. In 2009 Tod Bol, of Hudson, assembled the first Little Free Library. It was a model of a one-room schoolhouse. He designed and built it as a tribute to his mother who was a teacher who loved to read. He filled it with books and put it on a post in his front yard. He quickly discovered that his neighbors and friends loved it, so he built several more and gave them away.
The idea to expand the Little Free Library concept beyond Hudson sprouted when UW-Madison’s Rick Brooks saw Bol’s do-it-yourself project while they were discussing potential social enterprises. It was clear to both of them that there were opportunities to achieve a variety of goals for the common good via Little Free Libraries.
They decided to piggyback on the “take a book, leave a book” collections in coffee shops and public spaces. They also took a great deal of inspiration from Andrew Carnegie, one of the wealthiest men in the history of the US who was also one of this country’s greatest philanthropists ever. Around the turn of the 20th Century, Carnegie set a goal to fund the creation of 2,508 free public libraries across the English-speaking world. Brooks and Bol decided to set their own goal of surpassing 2,508 Little Free Libraries by the end 2013. They wound up exceeding that goal in August of 2012, a year and a half before their target date. To date there are over 100,000 Little Free Libraries in 108 countries.
In 2011, a magazine article about the Little Free Library concept caught the eye of Guida Brown, the Executive Director of the Hope Council on Alcohol & Other Drug Abuse in Kenosha, and she decided immediately to establish a Little Free Library in front of her home. It would be one of the first in Kenosha.
She discussed the design with her artsy/crafty sister, Kitt Stephenson, who went to work building the Little Free Library. Then, all around handyman Bob Houdek securely erected it on the front lawn of Brown’s home. To raise neighborhood awareness of the Little Free Library, Brown designed and printed an informational flyer and had her husband David McGrath, News Director at WGTD 91.1 FM, distribute them to some 500 homes in the neighborhoods around their home. A “christening” ceremony followed soon after, and the Little Free Library has been operational ever since.
A steady flow of readers keeps Brown busy restocking the library on a regular basis. She gets occasional assistance from her grandchildren, Gianna and Franco Miceli, who love helping her choose books to put in the Little Free Library and then organizing their placement on the shelves.
“That aspect of this project is a bonus,” Brown said. “I love to read, and I want to instill that love of reading in them. Getting them willingly involved in books and reading like this is just so gratifying.”
Brown has books galore in her house and some of them end up in the Little Free Library. “We have three bookcases in our dining room loaded with books,” she explained. “Handyman Bob actually put in an extra brace under that floor in the basement because he felt it was necessary because of all the books. I really like to keep some of the books I have read. David might argue with that word ‘some.’ Others I put in the Little Free Library. “
She said there is very rarely a shortage of books for the library due to the kindness of others. “While the Little Free Library motto is ‘take a book, return a book’ we actually have relatives, friends and strangers who leave bags and/or boxes of books on our enclosed porch. At any given time, we can have between 25-100 books on our porch waiting to be put in the library.”
Not only is she the owner of a Little Free Library, she is a user, too. “Any time we are out for a walk or a drive and I spot one, we stop. I never want to pass up a chance to find a good book…free!”
To get started on putting up your own Little Free Library visit www.littlefreelibrary.org.
Here is an incomplete list of many of the Little Libraries in our area!
1606 35th Place
32nd Street & 24th Avenue
36th Street & 21st Avenue
3833 8th Avenue
40th Place & 6th Avenue
45th St & 6th Ave. (Union Park)
5014 7th Avenue
5038 6th Avenue
5606 6th Avenue
5926 3rd Avenue
7523 5th Avenue
804 75th Street
1807 81st Street
6207 39th Avenue
5414 49th Avenue (Strange School)
6102 54th Avenue
6755 49th Avenue
7408 Pershing Blvd
5426 70th Court
5213 81st Street
3505 88th Street
39th Avenue & 88th Street
47th Court & 83rd Street?
6403 92nd Avenue
3315 98th Place
8107 West Ridge Drive
10859 45th Avenue
19600 75th Street
7752 243rd Avenue
1901 176th Avenue
12th St. Condos Village Centre Drive
About: Hope Council on Alcohol & Other Drug Abuse, Inc.
The Hope Council on Alcohol & Other Drug Abuse, Inc. has served Kenosha County since 1969. The mission is to reduce the impact of substance use disorders in our community by providing education, prevention, intervention, and referral services. “I like to think of us as the little agency that could. With only twelve staff…on a good day…we are small but we are mighty!” said Guida Brown, Executive Director.
The Hope Council is best known as the agency to which someone must report if they are a resident of Kenosha County and have received a ticket for operating while impaired, but the agency also provides a variety of other services to benefit the entire community.
“We know that one-third of the population is affected by someone else’s substance use disorder, so we provide many wraparound services to help the entire community,” Brown said. Visit www.hopecouncil.org for more information.
This story originally appears in the February 25th, 2021 print edition of The Smart Reader magazine