Every Little Free Library Has a Story

We knew that on our way to the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival we would be driving through the wonderful town of Arlington, Washington, so dear husband suggested that we bring along a box of books to put into the little free libraries there. What a great idea!

Arlington has a population of about 20,000 people, and it has a charming, historic downtown. It would be a great place to retire, because housing costs are almost reasonable, compared to the Seattle area. Sadly, it will be getting an Amazon Fulfillment Center soon, so it will gain 1,000 jobs but probably lose a lot of charm and affordability. But as usual, I digress.

According to the official little free library website, Arlington currently has 6 registered little free libraries. One is only identified by latitude and longitude, so we skipped that one because it would be too much of a hassle to locate. We did visit the other five, though, and they were charming. Check out the pictures below.

Another thing I love about little free libraries is that they all seem to come with a unique story. Sometimes those stories are included in the map section of the little free library website. I always enjoy these stories.

For example, one of these libraries is hosted by a retired librarian who was hoping to get rid of some of her books, but now she has more books than she started with, because people are so great about donating them! She now has two little free libraries side by side, one for adult books, another for children’s books.

Two others, the TARDIS and the baby blue one with the peeling paint, were designed by a girl scout troop. The peeling paint one got vandalized and had to be repaired and relocated. I hope these two have someone taking regular care of them.

The large one was placed in front of a real estate office by one of the brokers. It had plenty of space for good books! The broker also has a library in front of his house. Good for him!

And the green one is strategically placed at a school bus stop. It’s a rural neighborhood, so the steward says it is visited by “children, dogs, horses and people out walking.” I wonder if the horses or dogs have left any books.

I love that for every little free library there’s a story. But the final sentence of each of those stories is, by default, a simple one. Please read.

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What NOT to Put in a Little Free Library

I’ve operated my little free library for nearly two years now, and during that time I’ve also been a member of two little free library Facebook groups, so I’m in constant communication with little free library stewards from across the globe. While I haven’t personally seen it all, I can say that I’ve seen enough vicariously to know that people can be strange. Yes, they can also be generous and kind, as most of my patrons are, but the strange ones are more humorous to write about.

For some reason, a small, special percentage of the population view these libraries as dumping grounds for the things they don’t want. Here are some things that have been put in these libraries:

  • Garbage.
  • Various articles of clothing. (If the library doubles as a clothing drop place, then okay, but make sure the stuff is clean. But I can’t emphasize this enough: Nobody wants your used underwear.)
  • Food items. (If the library doubles as a food pantry, then make sure the food isn’t opened, half-eaten or expired. But it’s very obvious when a little library does NOT double as a food pantry, so please respect that.)
  • Books with water damage, smoke damage, or mildew.
  • Controversial books such as Mein Kampf or The Anarchist’s Cookbook. (I don’t believe in censorship, but these books require context that is hard to provide in this forum.)
  • All manner of creatures, alive or dead. (If you don’t want them in your house, why should anyone else?)
  • Items of furniture. (This isn’t Sanford and Sons.)
  • Textbooks or encyclopedias from 1984. (Just because you feel guilty getting rid of obsolete books does not mean you should force us to do so for you.)
  • Drugs.
  • Books that are falling apart or that have missing pages.
  • Books that your child covered in doodles.
  • Books that have been chewed on by anyone or anything.
  • Mixed media books that are missing the other media.
  • Old ratty magazines.
  • Pornography.
  • Ammunition. (C’mon. Seriously?)
  • Hate speech.
  • Pamphlets, flyers or coupons.
  • Junk mail.
  • Chewing gum.
  • Things that any sane person would normally flush down a toilet.
  • Books with such a limited audience that no one will probably take them, such as “Embalming: Best Practices”.

Also, remember that these libraries aren’t just for you. They’re for the entire community.

  • Please don’t completely empty them of books in one visit.
  • Please don’t vandalize them.
  • Please don’t take books out for the purposes of resale. (We’re trying to get books into the community for those who can’t afford them or don’t have access to them otherwise. We’re not here for you to sell these things on Amazon. A small portion of library stewards don’t mind this, but for the life of me, I don’t understand why. It constitutes a community theft as far as I’m concerned.)
  • Please don’t steal the log book! We like hearing from people! Why would you want our log books? (You’d be amazed how often this happens.)

There are a few odd things that I personally really enjoy getting in the library, and don’t mind leaving for others, but if you’re planning to put these things in another little free library, check with the steward and make sure it’s okay with them first.

  • Rubber Duckies.
  • TINY, unbroken toys.
  • Painted rocks.
  • Pretty bookmarks.

I know this post seems a little complain-y, but you’d be amazed at what we stewards encounter. I will say, though, that the vast majority of my library patrons are generous, kind, and thoughtful. They love the library as much as I do, and take good care of it. For the most part, this library has restored my faith in humanity, and it is one of the best projects I have ever undertaken.

Keep reading, y’all.

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Little Free Libraries at Every Turn!

I just read an article that filled me with glee. A little free library has been placed at the South Pole! That alone is amazing, but it’s even more so when you consider that that means there are now little free libraries on all seven continents! Isn’t that wonderful? We are united, it seems, in a love of reading and sharing.

These libraries come in all shapes and sizes. I’ve seen little free libraries made of hollowed out tree stumps, vending machines, newspaper boxes, refrigerators, phone booths, microwaves, and all sorts of creative wooden designs. Some, like mine, have living roofs. Some are miniatures of the houses they sit in front of. Some come with benches. Others double as food pantries. These libraries are only limited by the imagination.

Interested in having a little free library of your own? Check out this website for more information. Meanwhile, to whet your appetite, here are some pictures of the little free libraries I’ve encountered, along with some from other parts of the world that were sent to me via the Pokemon Go app. Enjoy!

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Mid-Month Marvels: LINC

A recurring theme in this blog is the celebration of people and/or organizations that have a positive impact on their communities. What they do is not easy, but it’s inspirational, and we don’t hear enough about them. So I’ve decided to commit to singing their praises at least once a month. I’m calling it Mid-Month Marvels. If you have any suggestions for the focus of this monthly spotlight, let me know in the comments below!

After my little project to get books to needy children, a friend (Hi, Sam!) told me about LINC, or LiteracyINC, which is an organization in New York City which does the same thing on a much, much larger scale. I decided to look into this program. What I see on their website is very impressive.

As they so aptly describe it, “LINC provides a scaffolding of support that increases both children’s and parents’ access to literacy-building opportunities, raises expectations, generates an understanding of grade-level literacy skills, and provides simple reading strategies to support parents in helping their children, regardless of their own ability to read or speak English.”

These are concepts near and dear to my heart. And I’m even more impressed by the many different programs they operate. They hold workshops for parents to teach them “literacy strategies to use at home and to make literacy a part of a family’s daily routine.” They have another workshop to prepare parents to be classroom volunteers.

They also have several school programs. In one, they pair older students with K-2nd grade students. They become reading buddies. That is awesome. They also build strong parent/teacher collaborations. In addition, they go into senior centers and link them with second grade students. That’s called the Great Grandreader Program. What’s not to love?

LINC also holds street fairs and celebrations at local libraries and they hold book drives. They partner with local and corporate businesses, PTAs, NGOs and community centers.

Truly, I’ve barely scratched the surface of what this wonderful organization does. You’ll find much more on their website. I hope you’ll join me in supporting them! When our children become successful readers, we all thrive.

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Help Your Local Little Free Library!

There are things you can do that won’t cost a penny.

Everyone who curates a little free library has one thing in common: a desire to promote literacy and the love of reading. To do that, we are continually looking for ways to spread the word about our library’s existence. It’s a constant effort, but I have yet to find a steward who doesn’t look at it as a labor of love.

Many of us have Facebook groups for our libraries. We also make announcements on Nextdoor.com, and in community forums. We proudly place our location on the littlefreelibrary.org location map so people who are looking for ones located near them will find them.

But, if you talk to enough stewards, you quickly learn that the best way to spread the word about your library, the ne plus ultra of grapevines, is to have your library turned into a pokestop in the Pokemon Go app. Then, players of this popular game can see your library on the virtual horizon from blocks away. There might be a library within walking distance that you wouldn’t otherwise know about!

It takes some effort for pokestops to happen, though. You have to either reach level 38 in the game yourself, or know someone who has who is willing to come to your library and nominate it as a pokestop. If it were up to us stewards, all little free libraries would instantly become pokestops. Sadly, that’s not possible.

There is much envy on the little free library forums of the pokestop “haves” by the pokestop “have nots”. When I posted the great news that my library became one, one of the milder comments was “I’m so stinkin’ jealous!” So, once I became able to nominate libraries myself, I decided to add that to my goals to promote literacy.

On a recent day off, on a rare sunny winter day in the Pacific Northwest, I decided to look up libraries near me on the library map, and plot the shortest route from library to library. For the next several hours, I visited each location, and checked to see if they had pokestops or not. If they didn’t, I nominated them.

This takes a little work. It requires the taking of photographs and much typing. This sometimes drew attention. When I told the first steward what I was doing, I think he would have picked me up and spun me around out of pure joy if we weren’t in the midst of a pandemic. Such was his ecstasy. He was jumping up and down on his front porch. That definitely added to the fun.

Another fun part was visiting neighborhoods I’d never been in, and seeing the variety of libraries out there. Some double as food pantries. Some also give out painted rocks. Best of all, I got to imagine how many more children would find these books thanks to Pokemon Go. It was like a little free library scavenger hunt! It was a good day.

At the end of it, every registered library in Kent, Auburn and Covington, Washington was nominated. Below are pictures of some of the libraries I visited. There is no guarantee that my nominations will be accepted by the good folks at Pokemon Go, but it’s worth a shot. And if they are accepted, it could take anywhere from a few days to several months for it to show up in the game. But it’s worth it if it draws kids to those books.

Anyone can help spread the word about these libraries far and wide! If you don’t play Pokemon go, tell your friends on social media about little free libraries near you. And if you are a player who is high enough up in the game to nominate pokestops, won’t you help your local little free libraries promote literacy? Either way, go to https://littlefreelibrary.org/, click on the map, and look up the libraries in your area. Tell people about them, and/or nominate as many “un-pokestopped” libraries as you can. You just might turn a curious child into a reader, and that might make all the difference!

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The First “Un-iversary” of My Little Free Library

On July 24, 2019, with the help of my husband, I fulfilled a dream that I had had for many years. I was able to place a little free library in front of my house. It was an exciting moment, because books mean a great deal to me, and literacy means even more. By providing this service, I felt as though I was doing something very significant for my community.

For the uninitiated, little free libraries are boxes placed in communities and filled with books. You take a book, but you don’t necessarily have to return it (which is often the case in my library). You can also donate books for others to enjoy.

These libraries are great for those who don’t have the time or ability to go to a public library. They’re particularly effective in areas of high foot traffic. In my neighborhood, they seem to be used most by parents who are taking their children for a walk. It’s hard to keep children’s books in my library. And that gratifies me a great deal, because children who read become adults who read, and adults who read are more intelligent, and develop the critical thinking skills that are necessary to have a positive impact on society at large.

I don’t think I quite realized how much fun I would have in this endeavor. We have no neighbors right next door. It’s not a pop-in-and-borrow-a-cup-of-sugar kind of community. So I wasn’t expecting this magical little box to do so much to make me feel connected to the people in my area.

Now, when people see me watering the plants in the front yard, they say hello. If they are walking down the street and they see me pulling out of my driveway, they point at the library and shout a thank you. I have a log book in my library, and they leave the most gratifying notes. They talk about how much they enjoyed this or that book. They ask for books of a certain genre, and I do my best for them. They tell me about the books they’ve donated. They thank me for being an easy source of reading material for people who don’t have cars and can’t easily get to the public library. All these things bring tears to my eyes.

Unfortunately, due to this pandemic, I felt it was necessary to temporarily shut down my library. I didn’t want to. I really struggled with the concept. But in the end, I knew that doing the responsible thing takes precedence over doing what feels good.

This, for me, has been the hardest part of this pandemic. And I’ve been told by more than one passerby that it has been hard for them, too. In fact, they have begged me to reopen.

So we’ve decided to do so on a trial basis, with certain precautions. We have added a bottle of hand sanitizer, and a sign asking patrons to use it before touching anything. We’ve also removed the logbook, pens, rubber duckies, and bookmark giveaways. This breaks our hearts, but safety first.

I worry about the health of everyone in the neighborhood, but as tensions and boredom and temperatures are rising, and morale is at an all time low, I feel as though our little library is needed now more than ever. I hope that all of us have learned enough about safe behavior during this pandemic to treat the library safely and responsibly.

So there you have it. Today was supposed to be an anniversary celebration. I was thinking balloons and bookmark giveaways and cookies and a table with an even wider selection of titles. Instead, it has turned into an un-iversary, because we were closed for about 1/4th of the year, and we really can’t have a big fete.

All of this has me longing for better, healthier days. But it reminds me that it really is possible to make a difference. And that, in these chaotic, unpredictable times, is something to hold onto.

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Tsundoku

I learned a new word today, thanks to this article. Tsundoku (not the be confused with the number puzzle sudoku) is the Japanese word for the acquiring of reading materials, followed by letting them pile up and subsequently never reading them.

Now, who among us isn’t either guilty of that ourselves, or at least knows someone who is? It’s a tragedy. When I think of all the trees that have been converted into expensive paperweights in this manner, it makes me want to weep.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a huge proponent of reading. I absolutely love books. What I really hate is stuff. Accumulation. It’s just too much. That’s why I adore libraries. I can always lay my hands on any book I want. I just don’t have to store it myself. I can’t think of a more amazing service to provide the public.

Somewhere in Missouri are about 50 boxes of books, moldering away in a storage shed. They are my inheritance from my late sister. The one thing we had in common was a love of reading. But I don’t know what she was thinking. I couldn’t afford to ship them all from there to here if my life depended on it. And where would I put them? One of these days I’m going to have to fly out there and donate them to a library or sell them to a used book store or something. Meanwhile they just sit there, occupying space and entertaining no one. What a hassle. What a shame.

I guess you might say I suffer from Tsundoku by proxy.

pile-of-books

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Reading Your Way to Success

Recently, I blogged about the Little Free Library that I put out in front of my house. It’s been an amazing experience so far. I love seeing the books disappear. I love the positive feedback. I love knowing that people get as excited about reading as I do, and I really love making that possible for them.

The most unexpected thing about the whole experience is that I’ve been struggling to keep children’s books on the shelves. They vanish almost as quickly as I put them out there, and they rarely if ever come back. But to me, that’s good. Kids love to read books over and over and over again. The whole point of this library is to encourage reading, not for me to become the book police. It’s not about the inventory. It’s about the adventure.

Fortunately, I know how to ask for help when I’m struggling. I visited a Unitarian Universalist Church near me one Sunday, and during a period when people are allowed to make announcements, I mentioned my library and my need of children’s books.

The minute the service was over, I was approached by an elementary school teacher, and since then he has provided me with a huge box full of books, and he says there will be plenty more where that came from. Yay! Elementary classroom teachers, and their school libraries, are always rotating out their inventories. He’s now my children’s book source. He was even more enthusiastic about it when he realized my little library probably services students from his school, as we’re only about a mile and a half apart.

He and I are definitely on the same page about this: Reading is the most important skill a person can have. According to this article,

The benefits of leisure reading are enormous:

  • Readers do better in all subjects including science, math, history and civics

  • Provides higher verbal ability and better college readiness and success

  • School work is easier for readers–readers are more likely to stay in school

  • Stronger civic and cultural engagement including volunteering and voting

  • Leads to better workplace readiness and performance

  • Reading is a deep source of joy and curiosity

  • It increases our imagination, creativity, empathy and understanding

As Dana Gioia, former-Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, put it a few years ago, “If I could only know one number about a kid at 18 that would predict how successful he’d be in life, it would be his reading proficiency.”

So I’m very grateful to have found this teacher, and I’m thrilled to assist him in his goal to help children experience the joy of reading.

He heard my plea and came to my aid, so it’s only fair that I spread the word about his plea as well. His school, and all elementary schools, need volunteers who are willing to listen to children read. That sort of thing may not seem like a big deal to you or me, but lending an encouraging ear to a child can do wonders for his or her self-esteem, and it can create enthusiasm for reading.

This kind of volunteerism can be tedious, but it’s so important. You have to be willing to make it a positive, enjoyable experience, not a pressure-inducing disciplinary tool. (This could be the perfect job for a lonely, yet sharp-minded senior!)

Check out this article if you’re interested in learning more about it, and then reach out to a school near you. They sure could use your time, and the child involved would be getting the chance to read his or her way to success. What a gift!

o-PARENT-CHILD-READING-facebook

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When Did I Stop Looking Around?

I have been missing the luxurious act of cuddling up with a good book. I think doing this is important for my mental health. So instead of waiting for an opportune time, I decided to make time. And as with potato chips, I couldn’t stop. That first day I read for about 5 straight hours. It was wonderful. (For those bibliophiles out there, I’m reading The Feather Thief, by Kirk Wallace Johnson. Highly recommended!)

It was wonderful, that is, until the eye strain kicked in. Ugh, what a miserable feeling. I finally had to stop and rest my eyes for several hours. I wouldn’t have had this problem if I had bothered to look at something in the distance every once in a while. But I was too busy book-binging to even consider that.

You’d think my eyes would be used to this brutal treatment. I’m constantly staring at a computer screen or at my phone. Looking up and away every now and again should come naturally. It used to. In fact, I started writing this blog based on the things I would see while gazing out the window at work.

When did I stop looking around? When did my world become so compact? What have I been missing, just a few yards away from the end of my nose?

More and more, we all walk past each other, our tiny little horizons barely intersecting. There’s so much out there that we no longer see. Our world has shrunk, and yet we are under the illusion that it has expanded as we zoom through cyberspace. But when’s the last time you fed a bird? How many rainbows have you missed?

Look up, dear reader, look up! (Well, finish checking out my blog first. But then, look up!)

Look up

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Book Withdrawal

Recently I stayed up until 4 am, catching up on season 2 of The Orville, eating junk food, and playing sudoku on my phone. I just didn’t feel like going to bed. And I’m a grown up, so I get to make these stupid decisions. Naturally, I regretted it when the alarm went off, but hey, that’s life.

I have many fond memories of making that same stupid decision, only the activity in question was a really good book. I haven’t read a book in a long time. Nobody told me that married life and just day-to-day life would be so busy. No regrets at all about being married, but I do miss reading books.

I long to encase myself in flannel, hunker down in a comfy bed with a warm dog, and lose myself in another place and time. And no, the book can’t be on kindle, either. No glowing screen allowed. It has to be a cozy, heavy, substantial thing of print and binding. A dog-eared, page-stained, dusty old tome. That’s what I want. Yeah.

It’s not that I’ve stopped reading entirely, of course. I spend the bulk of my day either writing this blog or reading various and sundry articles on the web. But that doesn’t feed my need.

From childhood into my late thirties, I pretty much carried a book with me wherever I went. Books were my security blankets. They were my shields against the chaos of the world. They were how I blocked out the dysfunction of my home life.

I have no idea when or how I stopped carrying a book everywhere I went. I suspect it was about the time I got a laptop. And while I do love my lappy, I sometimes wish I could go back to being that book-nosed girl that I used to be, if only for a little while.

I’d love to see some book recommendations in the comments below!

books

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