Nonprofit uses little libraries to unite community

By: Brigitta Burks
Reprinted courtesy of: Toledo Free Press

Libraries are clearly important to Chad Stanton of Stanton Fine Furniture. He taught himself his profession out of library books — and he recently built a “Little Free Library” on his street.  Little Free Library is an organization that helps create mini libraries where users can take and leave books at no cost — all without a library card. Co-founder Todd Bol started the project in Hudson, Wis., in 2009 to honor his deceased mother.



“We’ve had people who say it absolutely has redefined their neighborhood,” Bol said. The project, co-founded by Rick Brooks, has grown immensely since they built the first few.  “What happened is we started to plant these seeds to build interest.  This time last year, we had about 100 of these libraries and this time a year later, we have 4,000, pushing 5,000.”

Stanton started the first Little Free Library in Toledo because he likes to use his profession to help the community. He has made instructional videos for Habitat for Humanity and also made one on constructing the library that can be viewed at youtube.com/watch?V=EMApN1EHEQU.



Those interested in building a library can purchase construction materials at www.littlefreelibrary.org and can register their library on the site so it appears on a map. Libraries can be constructed and designed using other outlets like Home Depot and still be registered with Little Free Library for a fee.  Usually about 10-20 books are in the library on Oak Grove Place, Stanton said.



“Everyone on the street loves it,” he said. “It kind of brings a sense of unity to the neighborhood that we’re all looking out for the kids.”  Bol said Little Free Libraries tend to unite neighborhoods. He’s gotten comments like “It’s like having a front porch that extends to the sidewalk,” or “The only way the Little Free Library could be better is if there was a fairy that lived in it.”



“You know how a puppy enters the room, the biggest, burliest guy will bend over in delight and squeal over the puppy?” Bol said. “People would walk by the Little Free Library and they’d make a, ‘Cute! Oh, wow!’”  Many of the libraries are themed, and Bol said he’s seen ones with cat, dog, health, environmental and music motifs, to name a few. Some people also view the libraries as a sort of art project.

“We’ve been told we are a folk art revival, where multigenerational families get together to build a library,” Bol said.



Bol’s group also aims to get Little Free Libraries in small towns where there aren’t public libraries. Structures have also been built in developing countries. Additionally, the organization has an outreach program, funded by an AARP grant, for isolated senior citizens. Those interested in sponsoring a Little Free Library can do so at www.littlefreelibrary.org.

Bol said he would like to see the number of Little Free Libraries increase in Ohio as it has in other states.  There are 17  in Ohio, according to the map.



“We like to think it’s more stable than a trend or something that’s flashing because it’s got that ongoing community engagement,” he said.  “I’m hoping others in the Toledo area will catch on and try to do it as well,” Stanton said. “To me, libraries are essential.”



Bol added, “Where they work best is with somebody that’s absolutely dedicated to making it work.”  So far, Stanton is that person for his neighborhood.  “I just really hope more people in Toledo are willing to get to know their neighbors and realize that kids are really the future and I hope the kids can be pulled away from the video games,” he said.