Little Free Libraries: Community Book Exchanges
By Brenda Eggert Brader
Just unlatch the small door and enter a world of mystery, history, humor, and adventure. Go ahead. Do it. That little door opens a Little Free Library box filled with books and fun, found at the most unexpected locations. Those who flip open that latch enter a private universe that will pique the interest of both children and adults.
Little Free Library is a nonprofit organization, based in Hudson, Wisconsin, that supports the worldwide movement to offer free books housed in small containers to members of a local community.
The Little Free Libraries also are referred to as community book exchanges, neighborhood book exchanges, book trading posts, pop-up libraries, and micro-libraries — and have been likened to human bird feeders, according to the website at LittleFreeLibrary.org.
The program was born to promote reading worldwide.
“My introduction to the Little Free Library project initially was noticing the Snively (Elementary) School one,” says Winter Haven resident Susan Dantzler.
“I went online at the LittleFreeLibrary.org, learned about it, and the very next weekend in Dunedin, near Clearwater, while biking with my husband (Brad Dantzler), I noticed they had a little library at the marina by the sea,” Danztler continues. “A couple of local artists had created the box with seashells, and a fish on top that was reading a book. We saw families using the library in the park and along the Pinellas Trail, and I fell in love with the idea.”
Discussing it with her husband, the couple thought the Little Free Library idea would be an ideal project for the newly formed Cultural Arts Advisory Council in Winter Haven.
“I was so excited to bring this project to Winter Haven that I wanted to serve on the committee,” Dantzler says.
“It was inspiring to encourage the community to maybe take it on and do it,” says Cultural Arts Advisory Committee Chair, Tinia Clark.
“Reading is a great way to inspire you. We tried to put (the little libraries) in spots where you can take a book or leave a book. Ideas were brought to the board. Ideas came from everywhere to make it happen,” she adds.
“It was kind of a fun project to get the board up and running and I think everybody was happy with the end result,” Clark says.
Sponsors who put up the funds to pay for the library boxes to be built were encouraged to speak with the artists about what the designs might be on the outsides.
“The Chain of Lakes Complex wanted their box to have a swim team; Lake Silver ski team wanted a theme that was related to water. That box actually has sand and shells and things like that on it,” Clark says.
“There are no rules, just what the need is,” Dantzler adds. “That is how each individual library is. Trailhead Park and the children’s playground has mostly children’s books that families will read.”
It depends on the location of the Little Free Libraries as to what books are found in them. Adult books seem to be fiction, classic fiction, and also classic fiction for middle schoolers.
“It is really exciting to see people in the community tapping into the classic libraries in their homes and bringing those books out to share,” Danzler says.
“It is really a community-based and maintained project,” she says. “It is a book share. In our community many of our families are hardworking, low income families and many of those children do not have books at home, so we made it a point to have our books to be taken and not just shared. Take a book and take it home and let it be yours.”
As an example, Dantzler says that she sees people using the libraries all the time in the downtown Winter Haven park, and the little libraries are emptying quickly. The Friends of the Winter Haven Library organization has volunteered to keep supplies of books in any of the little libraries within city limits for six months.
Since it has been only six years from one free little library in Wisconsin to 22,000 globally, Dantzler says it is exciting how all has grown.
“I think it means people want to be a part of this movement. My hope for this community is that people will be inspired and check out the sites, and especially around Christmas, that families and businesses will build their own libraries, and so wherever we go and have children, there will be a free library.”
She also hopes that other community entities will build their own libraries on their respective properties.
“How cute would it be to have a little Ronald McDonald sitting on a Free Little Library out front of McDonalds, or a library out front of the Winter Haven Hospital or Legoland or Walmart? I hope this movement becomes contagious” Dantzler says.
In Winter Haven, the locations of the Little Free Libraries are Rotary Park; Northeast Complex in the Florence Villa area; Southeastern Complex by the Rowdy Gaines pool; Central Park downtown by the water fountain; Martin Luther King Park on the shores of Lake Silver (sponsored by the Cypress Garden Water Skiers); and Trailhead Park, right by the tennis courts.
In Lake Wales, there is a library placed on the shores of Lake Wailes at a home, located at 322 Lakeshore Blvd.
In Davenport, a library is located at West Market Street in Market Square.
Polk County Schools Welcome Project
There are a few located in Lakeland that appear to be privately built and maintained. Nearby Little Free Libraries that have been registered on LittleFreeLibrary.org can be searched for on that website. The search results not only list where the little libraries are in Polk County, but who registered them and sometimes why it was installed, i.e. an Eagle Scout project.
Nat West, a respected community leader now retired from Winter Haven Hospital, has built 10 Little Free Libraries with the Public Education Partnership (PEP) that are installed at local elementary and middle schools.
“It’s been a neat project and I have plaques on every one of mine, so if you live in Spokane, Wash., you can find all my libraries, and I have registration numbers on them,” West says.
“It is $40 to register the libraries with the Little Free Libraries website at LittleFreeLibrary.org. I felt that was important to have registration on all I have had made,” he says.
“More than 4,000 books were donated last year for the PEP,” West says. “My wife and I, in our system, we stress upon principals to take a book and return that book. We want kids to get used to the library concept. We pressed on this because we wanted children to have access to books this summer.”
West feels the schools are probably the best option to place the little libraries so that kids have access. The Little Free Libraries are built to last and withstand rain and wind and the swing of a baseball bat. The posts are placed in the ground two feet and up four feet high so that elementary school-aged children can reach them.
West says the builders of the boxes did a beautiful job.
“And as soon as they found out where the principals wanted them, they were placed,” he says. “We have a good partnership with a variety of different people and got the school system (Polk County) to put them in the ground.”
Four Lakes Community in Lucerne Park sponsored two of the Little Free Libraries and also built two. Retired master builders made some at cost and someone even made seven of them, however, he wishes to remain anonymous, West says.
“A retired cabinetmaker made one and one came from my next door neighbor, who bought one already made. The sum of $2,000 came from an anonymous source in the community to help to begin stocking the libraries,” West says, and adds that the libraries themselves, often adorned very creatively, are gorgeous.
School Little Free Library Locations
Inwood Elementary School’s Principal, Polly Bruno, already had a Little Free Library installed before West got involved, and Snively Elementary School has had one for two years now. Wahneta Elementary has also had a little library for a while.
West says that other school locations with Little Free Libraries include Brigham Academy, Elbert Elementary, Garner Elementary, Garden Grove Elementary, Jewett School of the Arts, Lake Shipp Elementary, Pinewood Elementary, Denison Middle School, and Westwood Middle School. And of course there is one installed at the Public Education Partnership Education Center, located at 203 Avenue R NE, a building that is close to many of the kids that they’ve had access to free books all summer long.