Little Free Libraries are a small way to build a better community

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The Shamrock Shack at 960 S. Beaumont Rd. is stewarded by Debbie Mara and was the 105,975th Little Free Library registered to the online global network of chartered libraries. (Photo by Correne Martin)

By Correne Martin

 

When public facilities like local libraries were closed during the pandemic, avid readers who enjoy having a book in-hand found that Little Free Libraries filled a void for them. 

A Little Free Library is a book exchange box that oftentimes resembles a small house and sits atop a post. It is usually made from wood with a Plexiglas door that invites potential visitors to easily glance at the book selection. It can be standing most anywhere within a community where there’s regular foot traffic and high visibility. It is stocked with donated books, and sometimes periodicals, from the library steward and other users. 

The concept is simple: Take a book. Share a book. 

There is no charge, or expectation that the books be returned. There are no hours. There is no library card needed.

Debbie Mara, of Prairie du Chien, started one in her front yard in the summer of 2020. It’s called The Shamrock Shack. 

“I love the Little Free Libraries,” she said. 

Debbie has personalized her white “shack” with green painted shamrocks to catch the eye of passers-by. Hers has shingles on the roof, and it’s filled with adult paperbacks as well as children’s books. She said, this spring, the library has seen a lot of activity.

The Shamrock Shack, at 960 S. Beaumont Rd., is just one of many Little Free Libraries in Prairie du Chien, where this book-sharing movement seems to be thriving. 

Others can be found in the Memorial Gardens and at the Mississippi River Sculpture Park entrance, both on St. Feriole Island; behind the Prairie du Chien Memorial Library; at the Bailey residence, 506 S. Wacouta Ave.; at the Blackhawk Apartments, 695 E. Blackhawk Ave.; in front of the Prairie du Chien Police Department, 228 N. Beaumont Rd.; and inside Hoffman Hall rec center, 1600 S. Wacouta Ave.

There are others across Crawford County and into Grant County and northeast Iowa too. 

A global network that now boasts more than 106,000 Little Free Libraries, these miniature libraries actually got their start in Wisconsin. According to LittleFreeLibrary.org, the late Todd Bol, of Hudson, built a model of a one-room schoolhouse in 2009, as a tribute to his mother, a teacher. Filled with books, it quickly grew in popularity and he began building more and giving them away. Bol became connected with UW-Madison’s Rick Brooks and the two promoted the social enterprise in an effort to bring communities together by sharing good books.

While Little Free Libraries can be built by anyone and erected (of course, according to local zoning laws and municipal regulations), the goal of the organization—established in 2010—is for stewards to register them at LittleFreeLibrary.org. This gives readers greater access to the library by way of an online map. A unique charter number is assigned to each registered library, and an official charter sign engraved with that number is provided to be affixed to the library. Being part of the online map also offers a chance to share any background information about the start of the Little Free Library, if it’s in honor or memory of someone, and genre summaries. 

Tips on how to start your own library, the world map of registered libraries and even a place to purchase a pre-built library are all available online at LittleFreeLibrary.org. A mobile app is also available for download to iOS and Android phones.

Little Free Libraries are a movement that inspires readers and expands book access to all. As Bol once said, “I really believe in a Little Free Library on every block and a book in every hand. I believe people can develop systems of sharing, learn from each other and make a better place on this planet to live.”

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