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Last year, Barb Chandler received a “Little Free Library” from her kids. It’s designed to provide access to books and start conversations.

By Pam Reinig

Register Editor


An Elkader woman last year received a unique birthday gift designed for sharing with friends and neighbors. 

Barb Chandler, Elkader, was given a “Little Free Library” fully stocked with books for readers of all ages. She and her husband, Tom, recently secured it to a tree in their front yard, and now they’re hoping readers will stop by to take a book, leave a book or both!

“It hasn’t be up long so only a few people have stopped,” Barb said. “We’re hoping it catches on, though. We’re thinking of placing pavers from the street to the tree. That might make people more comfortable.”

Painted brick red with a green roof and fronted with a framed glass door, Barb’s “Little Free Library” is also a reminder of the books her family has enjoyed. Both sides of the house-shaped structure have replicated pages from her children and grandchildren’s favorite stories with original drawings. For example, her grandson, Finn, chose an excerpt from Tom Sawyer illustrated with a section of freshly whitewashed fence. Claire opted to share her love of The Secret Garden.

Little Free Library is a grassroots movement started in 2010 by two Wisconsin men, Todd Bol of Hudson, who wanted to honor his mother, a former teacher and lover of reading, and Rick Brooks, Madison, who had helped Bol launch the concept. Referred to by the men as “sidewalk libraries,” the phenomenon has really caught on. There are more than 25,000 Little Free Libraries in the United States and more than 70 other countries. The pair hopes to double that number by 2017 and eventually exceed the number of public libraries actually built by Andrew Carnegie (2,510).

“We have people who share heirloom tomato seeds and people who share their artwork,” said Bol. “Why not books?”

Despite its impressive growth, the idea is more than the statistics often used to define it: It’s a to increase accessibility while encouraging conversations with neighbors and passers-by.

“We’ve had so many people tell us that they met more people in a week after putting a Little Free Library than they’ve met in 30 years,” said Bol. “It engages and brings neighborhoods together, and folks talk to each more than they ever have.”

That might be true in large cities but in small towns like Elkader and in established neighborhoods like the Chandlers’, the chances of a stranger stopping by are slim. That doesn’t diminish the appeal of the concept, especially for Chandler.

“I think it’s a great idea and I would love to see these pop up all over town,” she said.

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