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'Little Free Libraries' pop up in Ashland

You know those little boxes full of free books, mounted on poles in front of people’s houses? Well, they’re getting more popular — and for good reasons. They’re not just good for promoting literacy. These boxes, called Little Free Libraries, started in Wisconsin in 2009, are turning out to be community builders, places where people are linger and have conversations with their neighbors.

The founders goal was to build 2,510 Little Free Libraries — as many as Andrew Carnegie built — by 2014. The goal was reached in 2012 and in January the count hit 15,000.

Two have sprouted in Ashland. One on Laurel Street is the work of historian George Kramer and his wife, Joyce Van Anne, where, he reports, “It’s nice to come home and find a mom and her kids leafing through books and talking with others, then leaving a few books.”

Kramer read about them, learned there weren't any in Ashland, went to littlefreelibrary.org, got the plans for hammering one together and created it.

“My wife said ‘if you build it, I’ll keep it full of books,’” said Kramer. She has. They went out and bought $25 worth of books to get it started and, since then, users have followed the LFL motto, “Take a book, return a book.”

Kramer adds, “The good of them is to help people be literate, read books and keep books out of landfills.”

A booth at last Saturday’s Talent Harvest Festival promoted LFL, showing photos of six new ones in Talent and Phoenix, all on public property, in keeping with the guidelines of the funding agencies, Ford Family Foundation and Rural Development Initiative.

“It’s important to have a community that reads. We make better decisions when we understand the importance of knowledge. It’s a fundamental activity we all need to do,” said Phoenix City Manager Steve Dahl, who will oversee the creation of a LFL in front of city hall.

In Talent, they will go up at Chuck Roberts Park, Talent Community Center and Talent Elementary School.

“We love them. It’s such a neat idea,” said author Sandra Duncan of Talent. “We’re always interested in reading a new book and we want to share them with other people. Books are one of my passions.”

Sandra Davis erected a LFL in front of her Nevada Street home in Ashland, with other families donating the wood, glass, roofing, labor and painting on the side — images of hyacinths, which grow in beds around it.

“It’s a really wonderful thing,” she says. “If you register it (with the national organization) you get a sticker with a charter number and they put you on their map. I really like the idea of people reading real books. It’s different than reading e-books.

“Moms with strollers and kids from Helman School (three blocks away) come by and get books. There are lots of children’s books in here. It’s a community-building thing. I’ve met so many neighbors here and we talk about books. One mom said it’s magical and she loves to come here with her small son.”

Pulling up in her car, Kelly Gelino said, “I’m surprised at the quality of books here and it’s a real ‘pay it forward’ kind of thing.” Her son Noah Aguilar dropped off a book, noting his favorite from the box was “Hunger Games.” 

The idea has been so successful, notes Davis, that now neighbors are talking about putting up Little Free boxes that hold plants, seeds and other items having to do with raising food gardens.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

George Kramer incorporated a mini chalk board with his little library in front of his home in Ashland. Daily Tidings / Jamie Lusch
George Kramer stands with a little library that he built in front of his home in Ashland. Daily Tidings / Jamie Lusch