Will Travel For Words: All Over the World by Karen A. Chase
I am a very lucky author. In addition to finding and writing books through my travels, there are two libraries within one block of my home. They are called Little Free Libraries, and I walk to them sometimes during my writing breaks.
Yes, that name is capitalized. Little Free Libraries are adorable freestanding boxes offering books for free. Encouraging readers to “take a book, return a book,” little libraries are built and paid for by neighbors for their community. There are two near me, but worldwide there are (ready for this?) nearly 15,000. The idea of a free library in the United States has been around since before the end of the nineteenth century. According to Larry T. Nix in his book “Library,” the first public library supported by taxation was built in Peterborough, New Hampshire in 1833. Shortly after that followed the Boston Public Library. They sprang up all over, and since then free books even came and went from shelves in coffee shops, doctor’s offices, and more.
Jefferson, Adams and Madison saw the how crucial it was to the federal government. While their original concept first became a library just for the congress, they hoped it would eventually grow into a national free library. It became the United States Library of Congress.
The basic Jeffersonian belief was if we educate the masses and put a book in their hands, we’ll improve society and reduce crime and poverty. Shocking thought! While today certain folks in that same congress in Washington might have trouble with giving to the poor, even great industrial capitalists like Andrew Carnegie believed in the idea. In his later philanthropic years, he donated enough money to create over 2,500 free libraries in the US, Canada and Britain.
With all that historic inspiration, the idea for the Little Free Libraries began back in 2009. According to the Little Free Library website, “Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin, built a model of a one room schoolhouse as a tribute to his mother, a former school teacher who loved reading.” One little box, became two. Two became four, and more and more books passed through the hands of Bol’s friends and neighbors.
Soon Rick Brooks joined the non-profit organization, helping to build library plans and promote the concept. Their goal was to build the same number as Carnegie–about 2500. They met that number in 2010, a year and a half before they thought possible. And then, whew, did it take off. Between 2010-2013 they estimate that over 1.65 million books have been donated and borrowed from nearly 15,000 libraries.
The Little Free Library in my neighborhood first showed up outside the local bakery in August of 2013. Sadly, a car drove through it late one night in November and water from the smashed hydrant ruined the books. I saved a tattered tome from the garbage and it now graces my front porch, but I mourned the loss. However, my fellow citizens are resilient. By January a new box had arrived, and in February a second one moved into the neighborhood next to our local coffee shop. Occasionally I take one of my own Bonjour 40 books, sign it, and drop it in there for some future Paris-traveler.
If you wish your community had such beautiful little boxes, or you have too many books (if that’s possible), perhaps a Little Free Library is just the thing for you. You can find affordable building kits and view their map for worldwide locations at LittleFreeLibrary.org.
What these community oriented, grassroots folks are doing makes me feel as happy as the words of my favorite Electric Light Orchestra song featured in this awesome video. “All over the world, everybody got the word.” It is truly a delightful thing to share a book with those closest to home, and those in need. For me, it also means that sometimes when I travel for words, it’s just to the end of the block.
Karen A. Chase is a regular contributor to Shelf Pleasure, sharing journeys near and far in the pursuit of stories and novels in her monthly feature, Will Travel for Words. She is the author of Bonjour 40: A Paris Travel Log, winner of seven Independent Book Publishing Awards for travel and design. She is currently working on an historical novel set during the American Revolution. Find Karen on Facebook, or on Twitter.
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