Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Features
Little Free Libraries
by Jennifer Tomazic


MILWAUKEE -- Books might not have been on Alexis Boyd's grocery list, but when she spotted a Little Free Library at Fondy Food Center in Milwaukee, she couldn't resist adding one more thing to her basket.

"I think they're adorable," said Boyd. "I've seen them at other locations."

Some of the other locations around Milwaukee include parks, stores, non-profits, outside of people's homes. In fact, there are 40 to 50 around Milwaukee, estimates Richard Brooks who works with the Little Free Library non-profit organization.

"The simple concept of "Take a book, leave a book," started in Hudson, Wisconsin when Todd Bol built one in the shape of a school house in honor of his mother, who was a teacher and loved to read.

Bol put it outside his home and almost instantly had the neighborhood talking.

"People came up to it and said, 'this is cute, this is wonderful, I want one,'" said Bol. "I really felt the idea was the community's not mine. I just listened."

What he heard was a lot of people who liked the idea of having a place in their neighborhood where they could pick up a book, return one the next time, and meet people with similar interests in between.

"Nowadays, I think people keep to themselves," said Young Kim, Executive Director of Fondy Food Center. "Having a Little Free Library is our opportunity to build community and get outside our busy lives."

He just put up one two weeks ago and had more than 116 people open and close the door of what looks like an oversized bird house.

Boyd is one of his regular shoppers, and she says the Little Free Library really does help bring a sense of community to the area.

"I think it's great for people to read and encourage reading at all ages for my son who is 18 months old to adults," said Boyd.

Trang Vu and her family were surprised to see the Little Free Library and were interested in finding books for everyone to take home. While this particular one was stocked with mostly gardening and cooking books, Trang found a copy of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade to take home.

"It's very fun," said the little girl. "I want to see more books."

Kim is responsible for keeping his Little Free Library stocked and says he's already run out of books twice. His library is just one of 29 that Pat Wyzbinski and her husband Scott Gelzer have decided to put up in the Milwaukee area.

"We lost our son four years ago, and each year we do a project for the community," said Wyzbinski. "This seemed like the perfect fit because he was a carpenter, so he would have enjoyed building them."

Each owner can build their own Little Free Library and register it online, or community groups can make it a project. A group from a state correctional facility build 5 of Wyzbinski's libraries.

"I see these little homes for books as places for people to gather in their neighborhood," said Wyzbinski. "It's not just about 'leave one, take one' it's about the conversation that takes place about the books in there."

And that's what Bol was hoping for when he created them: to reconnect neighborhoods and communities through something he says everyone can enjoy.

"Our better side of humanity comes out as people connect with literacy," said Bol.

To connect the community even more, Wyzbinski and Gelzer commissioned the Milwaukee Artists Resource Network to paint and weatherproof some of the libraries.

"It's an easy way to make a meaningful contribution to the community and to reading," said Gelzer. "I think Milwaukee would love to be known as the community that reads, so we're helping do that."

Brooks estimates there are 3,000-5,000 Little Free Libraries in all 50 states and 32 countries.

To find them in your area or learn how to have one of your own, log onto www.littlefreelibrary.org.