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A tiny, free library in Memphis, Tenn.-- one of thousands popping up worldwide. (Photo courtesy of I Love Memphis)

Spreading Community and Love of Books 'Little Free Libraries' Sprout Worldwide

"Take a Book. Return a book."

In an era of smart-phone-reading, electronic tablets, and 'books on ipod' a new wave in old fashioned books is sweeping the nation.

The Little Free Library is a movement started by Wisconsin native Todd Bol, who in 2009 built a small one-room house, filled it with books and affixed a sign which reads: "Take a book, Return a book."

The notion spread. Handmade or repurposed, small as birdhouses or big as a truck, these small lending libraries began popping up on front laws and sidewalks throughout the country. So much so that Bol co-founded the nonprofit, The Little Free Library, to build community and encourage others to promote literacy and a love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide.

The Denver Post's Colleen O'Connor writes Tuesday that the trend has taken off in her state with over 30 of these tomes to books and book readers in Colorado alone.

"At first I thought, 'Nobody is going to do this, People are caught up in video games or tablets or smartphones,'" said community activist Greg Rasheed, who established the first Little Library in Denver.

But, the Post writes, "sanitation workers jumped off trash tracks to grab a book or put one back, as did construction workers repairing nearby streets and 'little children happy to get some books.'"

"I was surprised that people were actually taking books out and putting stuff in there. I'm glad it's booming," he said. "People love to read."

The organization maps the over 5,000 branches of mini-libraries in 36 countries including Ghana, Qatar and Pakistan. "More than Andrew Carnegie!" writes YES! Magazine, reporting on the phenomena.

It costs $35 to register to receive the official charter sign and be posted on the world map.

In an interview with the Yuma Sun, where local homeowners and bibliophiles Roberta and Chuck Crabaugh recently erected a 'cupboard' sized library, Bol shared stories of other budding branches:

Bol told of New Orleans residents who built libraries out of debris from Hurricane Katrina. Loads of libraries, which are available for sale on the website, have also been auctioned off to benefit local charities.

But one project really “makes my heart sing.” A high school shop class in one town built 12 libraries that are headed to Ghana, Africa. Students on both ends of the journey plan to become pen pals and exchange letters and photos.

Sometimes, though, the big stories are the little moments. Bol loves the story of a woman who put a cookbook into her library, only to find it taken and replaced just hours later with the freshly baked cupcakes.

A woman in Hawaii couldn't afford to build a library, so she marched into Home Depot and explained her vision. A guy built the project for free. When she couldn't fit the finished product in her car, a woman came by with a truck. When the library was seriously damaged by a storm, a neighbor fixed it for her.

“These libraries are always bringing people together,” Bol said.

"Our community is a pretty low social-economic area in a lot of ways, and I just like the thought of helping people by encouraging reading," said Leadville, Colo. elementary-school teacher Mary Bender, who erected a 'little red schoolhouse library' in her yard.

Because it's Small, a short about the movement by filmmaker Marc Kornblatt, features mini-libraries around Wisconsin. The film won Best of the Fest at the Oneonta Film Festival. You can watch the trailer below.

Because It's Small Trailer from Randy Lee on Vimeo.


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