By Dave DeLuca
Have you been wondering if Kindles and iPads are making actual books extinct? Smart phones can access any newspaper or published novel in the world and put them in the palm of your hand, so who even needs books, anyway? Does anyone here in town read off physical paper? Well, yes. In fact, I found some Corvallisites who love books so much that they built libraries in their front yards. Little Free Libraries.
It started back in 2009 in Hudson, Wisconsin when a man named Todd Bol built a replica of a one-room schoolhouse, filled it with books, and posted it in his front yard with a sign reading “free books.” That humble structure started a worldwide movement to make books available to everyone, promote literacy, and to improve the sense of community in all neighborhoods. That last goal, by the way, is pretty tough to accomplish with a Samsung Galaxy S5.
Bol, along with Rick Brooks, created a non-profit called Little Free Library to help realize the dream. They sell the raw materials for the boxes with construction instructions and official signage online, as well as providing plenty of advice for would-be stewards on how to personalize and maintain the LFLs. A map can be found on the site showing the book boxes anywhere on Earth. There are eight Little Libraries on the map of Corvallis, along with the names of their stewards and their addresses. Being on the map is optional. I have plenty more Little Libraries that chose to remain off the map.
The first official Little Free Library in town belongs to Ella and Bruce Rhoades. A newspaper article showed the couple in front of their book box two years ago. The Rhoades have become a go-to resource for those in town who followed their example. They wrote and hand out a three-page document answering many of the common questions they receive. Ella considers her responsibility like that of pet ownership. She “feeds” her library books whenever it needs them. A corner of her living room is filled with stacks of “food” awaiting space. If a book sits too long in her LFL, Ella will pull it and donate it to the Corvallis Library.
Another bibliophile on the map is Terry Weiss. She invited the entire neighborhood to her children’s book Little Free Library grand opening. Kids pass her home going to and from school, and many check the box daily. Weiss has learned that book series are the most popular among her “customers.” Captain Underpants, Magic Treehouse, Animorphs, and Lizzie Maguire are a few examples of popular serials. Like the Rhoades, Weiss has stacks upon stacks of books available to restock her LFL. The kids rarely return the books, but Weiss doesn’t mind.
“It’s okay if they don’t bring them back. This is one place where kids don’t need rules,” she explained happily.
Isabel Prusinski has two Little Libraries. One is for children up to about age 10. The other library is for adults. Both have become self-sustaining, thanks to neighbors who leave more books than they take. Prusinski checks the books about once per week to make sure nothing untoward has made its way in. A pacifist herself, she removes books that glorify violence or war.
“My goal is to provide books that are literary and well-written and thought-provoking,” she said.
There is something reassuringly wholesome about these neighborhood fixtures. The LFLs on the map are like an invitation to us all: “Come see our neighborhood. We like new friends.” They are like hidden gems to their neighbors and passersby. All the stewards in Corvallis are helping spread the message that books are here to stay.
For more information, go to www.littlefreelibrary.org.