Little Free Library: national phenomenon spreads to Saratoga

February 14, 2019 — by Angelina Chen and Sherrie Shen

Little Free Libraries such as this line neighborhoods in the Golden Triangle.

It all started with one man’s dream: “Take a book, share a book.”

In 2009, Todd H. Bol crafted a tiny library-on-a-stick outside his home in Hudson, Wis., using wood from his old garage door. The little, birdhouse-like structure was meant to shelve books as a tribute to his late mother, who always welcomed kids inside their home for a snack or to help with homework. Bol intended for his creation to be a convenient shelf where books are taken and then  returned for the public’s use.

After building his first miniature library using a recycled garage door in 2009, Bol built and gifted many more libraries-on-a-stick. With the aim of encouraging a love of literature, he hoped to create a network of informal libraries that could surpass the country’s 2,150 Carnegie Libraries, a collection of libraries funded by businessmen and philanthropists.

After the success these libraries saw in Hudson, Wis., Bol teamed up with another Wisconsin native, Rick Brooks, to officially create a Little Free Libraries organization in 2010. As the organization started to spread, Little Free Library leaders looked for more ways to encourage literacy and connection in communities.

The Little Free Libraries website offers various tips for those who want to build their own library, as well as those who would prefer to buy one. The organization also developed programs like the Impact Library Program, Kids, Communities & Cops and the Action Book Club to promote reading among all ages of society and increase interactions between those age groups.

“Our hope is that these Little Free Libraries will inspire the love of reading, provide opportunities to learn and meet someone new and encourage appreciation for public art,” said Sara Monroe, Arts and Culture Coordinator for the City of Bradford, on the Little Free Libraries website. “These humble book exchanges will help to enhance our neighborhoods, and will provide our community with a space to express what is important to them.”

Less than a decade later, Bol’s front yard project has resulted in over 75,000 little free libraries sprouting up across 88 different countries.

Although Bol passed away in early October, his legacy remains with Little Free Library non-profit organization. The movement has even spread to Saratoga.

One of these libraries is in front of Ken and his wife Carol Shevock’s house in the Golden Triangle. Shevock decided to build his own little library during December 2016, after hearing about it from his daughters — both Saratoga High alumnae. He built three Little Free Libraries, one for his house and one for each of his daughters. His wife serves as the “librarian” of the Little Free Library, periodically switching out books after they’ve been there for a while.

“Kids are just looking for something interesting to read,” Shevock said. “I think that it absolutely ends up helping to promote reading.”

Many children often come by his library to find new books to read as if the library is a “treasure chest.” Shevock noted that children’s books are the most popular, and sometimes neighborhood children will donate textbooks from their Chinese classes, such as abridged versions of “Journey to the West,” to the library.

He also remembers seeing a young girl place her favorite book in the Little Free Library, only to then check the same book out the following week.

While the builders of the libraries hope patrons return books that were checked out or contribute their own old books, usually, more books end up checked out than donated, Carol Shevock said. To keep the library always up to date with different selections of reading materials, she sometimes buys old books from the public library’s used bookstore in downtown Saratoga and places them inside the Little Free Library along with old magazines.

Since building his own little library, Shevock has also made a few more for neighbors and friends. He believes that these libraries are a key factor in keeping his neighborhood community connected.

“It adds something to the whole community, it says we are a community, not just a bunch of houses,” he said.

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