Diane Mufson: Little libraries a breath of fresh air during the holidays
It’s that time of the year when celebrations, shopping, cooking and family interactions lead to great fun and equally great stress. Therefore, it’s time for a breath of fresh air from Little Free Libraries.
The Little Free Library Movement was started by Todd Bol in 2009. Mr. Bol died recently, but his activity morphed into a wonderful gift to people around the globe. It is proof that one does not have to be ultra-rich, famous, a powerful politician or even a creative genius to make your positive mark on the world. His obituary noted he was a public school teacher for a while and later had a business of arranging fellowships for nurses from other countries.
Little Free Libraries was born when Mr. Bol renovated his garage in 2009 and found himself with old wood he couldn’t bear to throw out. So, he built a replica of a schoolhouse to honor his mother who had been a teacher. He then put some of his mother’s books in it, placed it outside on his front lawn and offered it as a book exchange for his neighbors. He apparently thought that this was a one-off, but the Little Free Library movement grew exponentially.
Mr. Bol reportedly loved libraries and reading. He was motivated by the wealthy industrialist, Andrew Carnegie, who established about 2,500 public libraries around the country in the early part of the 20th century. One such library building, built between 1902-03, is in Huntington at 9th Street and 5th Avenue. Many of us can recall going there. The new Cabell County Public Library was built in the 1970s. The Carnegie building is home to the Huntington Junior College of Business.
As the Little Free Library movement took off, Mr. Bol’s goal was to have one more of his type of libraries than did Mr. Carnegie. Mr. Bol initially made some of the little libraries himself. He eventually put some of these designs on the website, so that people could build them wherever they lived. There are now more than 75,000 Little Free Libraries in 88 countries.
Huntington has had a listing of over 25 Little Free Libraries throughout the city and in nearby areas, on private, school and municipal properties. Since library houses often are added, there may be more. The 75,000th Little Free Library was established this past August at a Jenks, Oklahoma, elementary school where 32 languages are spoken. One of the most unique locations has to be the Yamal Peninsula in Siberia that is intended for reindeer herders and their families.
Interestingly, in this age of hi-tech everything, adults and children still love taking or borrowing a real book and then returning or replacing it, or just keeping the book. The library boxes are set up to contain at least 20 books and they are maintained by local “stewards,” who are the people who erect and decorate the boxes as they see fit.
Not only do these Little Free Libraries encourage the very basic skill of reading that is needed in every society today, but they also increase community interaction and can transcend so much of the divisiveness in today’s world. Perhaps, these cute little house replicas also remind us of unlocked house doors and a simpler world.
So, for a breath of fresh air this holiday season, celebrate Mr. Bol’s Little Free Library movement (littlefreelibrary.org) by donating books to one of the little houses or by giving the gift of books to children, especially those who have few.
Diane W. Mufson is a retired psychologist. Her email is email@example.com