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Week 43: "Little Free Library!"

Daniel Barash

I’d seen them around Berkeley before, little wooden boxes in front of neighborhood homes, each filled with a collection of books. But to be honest, I had never really taken the time to stop, open one of the doors, and look inside. Missed opportunities to be sure, for in early June, as I was perusing in 4th Street’s Builders Booksource, I saw Margret Aldrich's The Little Free Library Book staring up at me, begging to be opened. When I heeded the call and looked inside, the world of Little Free Libraries (LFL) was introduced, and I was immediately smitten!

Little Free Libraries started in 2009, when co-founder Todd Bol built a tiny, artful schoolhouse box of “free books” in front of his home, to honor his mother who was a former teacher. He immediately received positive feedback from neighbors and the wider community, and soon built more little “houses for books” to give away locally.

The rest is history, as they say; Todd soon teamed up with co-founder Rick Brooks. They were both inspired by many different ideas, including Andrew Carnegie’s support of over 2,500 public libraries in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s; Lutie Stearns, who brought “traveling little libraries” to 1400 locations in Wisconsin during the same period; “take a book, leave a book” collections in many public spaces; and grassroots empowerment movements springing up around the world.

After a little brainstorming and a lot of excitement, they decided to embark upon a bold challenge: help inspire the building of at least 2,510 (one more than Carnegie’s brick and mortar variety!) Little Free Libraries, tiny houses of free books in which recipients could take any book of their choosing, with the understanding that at some point, they would try to restock the missing title with one of their own. In essence, a continuous and ever changing little local library.

Their small dream became a viral reality within a few short years (albeit with a lot of hard work on the part of many!); there are now over 25,000 Little Free Libraries all around the world, and the number continues to grow every day!

Though very different in many respects, I actually think that the wonder of Little Free Libraries actually mirrors our little “Challah-it-Forward Challenge” in small but important ways; both involve giving and receiving in a simple, straightforward manner; both can be accomplished on the smallest of scales; and both have at their heart the belief in building and strengthening community, one book and one loaf of bread at a time!

Rick Brooks, Megan Hanson, and a sleeping Aviva!

Rick Brooks, Megan Hanson, and a sleeping Aviva!

Already enchanted with Little Free Libraries, I soon discovered how small and interconnected our world is; the LFL movement started in Hudson, Wisconsin, a small town a few hours from where I grew up, in Madison! And Marc Kornblatt, the “Challah-it-Forward” filmmaker from Weeks 40 and 42, has actually made an award-winning film about Little Free Libraries called “Because It’s Small”! On a recent trip home, I was able to meet with co-founder Rick Brooks and Megan Hanson, who works on LFL community and online engagement. It was a wonderfully connective meet-up, in which I was inspired by the their LFL phenomenon, and they were eager and excited by our Challah-it-Forward initiative! After our discussion, we strolled the neighborhood, stopping by a few of the literally dozens of LFL’s that line the streets of Madison.

Back on the home front, I of course bought “The Little Free Library Book” and immediately brought it over to Aviva’s preschool director, Molly Skuse. “Do you think Berkeley Urban Garden School (BUGS) might be interested in having a Little Free Library?” Without missing a beat, Molly said, “Of course, we’ll start this week!” And start she did, with husband Dominic Cabrera and the whole BUGS crew. And what was amazing, but not surprising in the least, was how the children were involved with every step of the process; from sanding the wood, to creating design sketches, to painting the base, to making from scratch little birds who would “nest” at the library. Truly a collaborative process!

We recently had our Grand Opening celebration, complete with homemade lemonade and cheesy popcorn. And of course, I couldn’t help myself and wrote a Little Free Library Song, which I performed and taught to everyone directly after the ribbon-cutting! A full-length recording of the song (complete with vocals and visuals from the kids themselves) is in the works, but for now, here’s a sneak-peak, with vocal help from Molly herself!

A wonderful weekend to all!