By Jacqueline G. Goodwin, Ed.D. | Photos by Danielle Debley
Ten years ago, the late Todd Bol built a doll-sized schoolhouse out of wood, filled it with his mother’s books and put it outside his house as a neighborhood book exchange. When asked why he did this, he said he was simply paying homage to his mother, a school teacher and lover of books who had recently passed away. Over the years, what originally started as a way to honor his mother has now snowballed into a worldwide book-sharing movement.
Currently, there are now more than 87,000 Little Free Libraries in all 50 states and 90 plus counties, from Argentina to Zambia. And they have been popping up in droves. On front lawns and street corners. In parks, community centers, and hospitals. You can even find them at beaches, malls, and barbershops.
Why did they catch on? For starters, they promote a friendly, sharing economy. No one tracks who took what. There’s no due date. No fines. You might never return a book. You might leave another instead. And, they are inherently cute. Many of the structures tend to look a bit like large birdhouses, only with doors opening onto a shelf of books. Volunteers paint them and then, once they’re open, restock books as needed. Some are custom-built—often cute, sometimes kitschy. Some of them are newspaper boxes not in use. And many have been purchased from Little Free Library’s website.
If you look around, you’ll probably spot a Little Free Library in the Harrisburg area. For starters, there’s one in the Broad Street Market. Originally a newspaper box, it’s now the Friends of Midtown Little Free Library. Down the road, a second Friends of Midtown Little Free library box can be found at N. 3rd and Kelker Streets at the Neighborhood Center. Both boxes were donated by the Patriot-News.
Each box holds anywhere from 10 to 15 plus books. Friends of Midtown is the steward of both libraries, refilling them with donations when the supply decreases.
There are also libraries outside a house in Linglestown, another at 2313 Forest Hills Drive, Harrisburg, one at Emerald and 4th St., Harrisburg and another at the Peffer Street Garden, Harrisburg. Across the river in Camp Hill you can also spot one at 236 North 29th Street.
The Mechanicsburg area features a blue TARDIS box outside of the Rosemary House & Gardens at 120 S. Market Street, Mechanicsburg created by Life Boy Scout Ethan Stoner as his Eagle project. Two other Little Free Libraries are located at 433 W. Main St., and 212 E. Marble St., Mechanicsburg. Another is located a Paulus Market at 1216 S. York St., Mechanicsburg. Two more can be found at 124 Brindle Road and 17 Hemlock Drive in Mechanicsburg.
In the near future, you’ll be able to spot another at 3400 N. 6th St., as Harrisburg Magazine is the process of constructing one of its very own.
As Little Free Library marks its 10th anniversary, over 120 million books have been shared. In addition to the registered libraries, which can be seen on Little Free Library’s interactive global map, there are an unknown number of mounted boxes containing books that are not registered, Little Free Library-branded structures, but are obviously modeled on them. Little Free Library encourages these copy cats, as demonstrated by the fact that its founder wrote the foreword to Little Free Libraries and Tiny Sheds: 12 Miniature Structures You Can Build by Philip Schmidt (published by Cool Springs in March 2018).
While the organization is best known for its book-exchange containers, that’s not all it does. For many years, Little Free Library has spearheaded literacy initiatives such as its Action Book Club, whose members read books together and then perform community service projects. The nonprofit also promotes literacy by sponsoring projects and programs in collaboration with businesses and organizations. Among the partners it has worked with are Books for Africa, Coffee House Press, the New York Times Learning Network, and Penguin Random House.
It’s incredible that a simple thing—a box of books and a post—has really struck a chord in so many places No wonder Little Free Library calls Todd Bol the “Johnny Appleseed of books: he planted seeds of literacy all over the world.”
Little Free Library is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that aims to inspire a love of reading, build community, and spark creativity by fostering neighborhood book exchanges around the world. For more information about Little Free Libraries, go to www.littlefreelibrary.org.