On my most recent visit to California, the small town of San Juan Capistrano captured my imagination in so many ways—from the famous timeless mission to a Victorian tea parlor to the small library nestled beside a comfy bench on a dusty side street.
Perhaps you’ve noticed the tiny libraries springing up outside businesses or in front of homes or near schools. Books are nestled behind the front glass of a brightly painted birdhouse or more elaborate structure. Of course, there’s a fascinating story (and group) behind Little Free Library.
In 2009, Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin, built a tiny replica of a red schoolhouse in his mother’s honor, a former teacher and booklover. Not long after he made free books available, folks from around town were stopping by, chatting, and picking up novels or nonfiction to take home. A University of Wisconsin-Madison professor saw the little library and recognized a golden opportunity to spread the love of books.
They partnered to promote literacy and reading through free book exchanges worldwide. As a model, they looked to Andrew Carnegie's support of public libraries and the popular "take a book, leave a book" found in cafes and hotels. Andrew Carnegie funded 2,510 libraries, and they hoped to reach that number.
Once their idea caught the interest of readers everywhere, they quickly met their goal and went way beyond it. Now Little Free Library (map) is available in countries as far away as Australia, France, and China. Plus, stewards of these book exchanges are busy maintaining and creating communities of literacy every day.
Kim Redford is an acclaimed, bestselling author of Western romance novels. She grew up in Texas with cowboys, cowgirls, horses, cattle, and rodeos for inspiration. She divides her time between homes in Texas and Oklahoma, where she’s a rescue cat wrangler and horseback rider—when she takes a break from her keyboard. Visit her at Kim Redford.