July 29, 2013

Little libraries go a long way in building community

Literary trading posts spring up on Maine lawns and prove to be more than just books in a box

By Ray Routhier rrouthier@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND - Lucy Oster was riding her bike to the public library -- a trip that the 12-year-old often makes twice a week -- when she noticed a tiny new building on her route.

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Julie Falatko and her children, 3-year-old Ramona and 7-year-old Eli, rearrange books in their Little Free Library in front of their South Portland home.

Photos by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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Jon Woodcock’s library in Saco awaits borrowers and donors.

Additional Photos Below

LEARN MORE about the Little Free Library movement, including how to get involved.

It was a roughly 2-foot-high structure with a shingled roof, sitting atop a post and located in the front yard of a house in Deering Center. Inside were crammed 20 to 30 books.

On the edge of the roof was a little wooden sign that read, "Little Free Library."

Lucy had never heard of a Little Free Library before, but she instantly loved it. She took a book from the "Charlie Bone" series and rode happily off.

Little Free Libraries have been popping up on front lawns around Maine recently like giant book-filled flowers. The phenomenon began in Wisconsin about three years ago and is gaining thousands of devotees worldwide for its simple idea and lofty mission: Ask people to take a book and leave a book, and in the process build stronger communities, foster better relationships among neighbors and promote a love of reading.

"I saw the sign and thought it was so cool," said Lucy, who was on her way to the Burbank Branch of the Portland Public Library when she discovered her neighborhood's book shack. "I mean, it's a little free library. I'm a big library fan."

Besides Deering Center, you can find these mini-literary trading posts in Falmouth, Cape Elizabeth, Saco and in at least three spots in Portland's East End. They are all over the state, as far north as Presque Isle.

In May, the Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick collaborated with Hammond Lumber, Lowe's and local high school students on a project to help more than a dozen groups build their own Little Free Libraries and install them around the midcoast.

"When it comes to our mission, the sense of community trumps everything," said Rick Brooks, a retired educator from Madison, Wis., who three years ago helped found the nonprofit group Little Free Library Ltd. "It's about sharing something you value and doing something nice for your neighbors. And you never know what books people will find."

The idea began with Brooks' friend Todd Bol, who built the first Little Free Library in 2009 as a tribute to his mother, a former teacher. He made it look like a little schoolhouse on a post, filled it with books, and asked people to take and leave books. The next year, other people started building them as well.

The idea has caught on in such a big way that there are an estimated 10,000 Little Free Library sites around the world, said Brooks. He doesn't know for sure, because the organization's small staff can't keep up with the job of listing all the registered sites on a map on the group's website, littlefreelibrary.org.

People pay $35 to register their Little Free Library, which gets them on the map (eventually), an official "Little Free Library" sign and lots of resource material.

The registration fee also gets Little Free Library "stewards" access to book labels and plates, and "how-to" information that deals with where to locate your library (on a busy pedestrian route, preferably), how to run a book swap, and related topics.

There is also a section on the website where people can buy library structures for around $150 and up if they don't want to build their own. Brooks says people can build any kind of structure they want -- there's no particular style or pattern to follow.

"People have made some really well-crafted ones, and some people make them out of old beehives, microwave ovens -- all sorts of things," said Brooks. "It's fun for people to travel around and see all the different ones."

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Additional Photos

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Kristin Jordan and her daughter Ruby, 3, look over the selection of books in their Little Free Library at their Portland home.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer


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