A love letter to libraries, including the littlest lenders on the block

Books, like all knowledge, are meant to be shared

I’ve always embraced the belief that knowledge should be shared. Access to knowledge is requisite for our enlightenment as individuals and our advancement as a society. An ivory tower is about as beneficial as a silk paperweight.

I think my admiration for libraries is rooted in this notion. It really should be a source of national pride that Americans decided long ago that books are a resource so important that they must be made widely available to all people at no direct cost. Here, the written works of authors comprising every genre under the sun co-mingle and wait for an equally diverse clientele of community members to choose their next intellectual treat.

What other product or service do we treat quite like books? What other item in this world can one borrow from a nearly limitless supply with no obligation other than the promise to return it in three weeks time? The concept is a vestige of classic values, all the more valuable for its rarity.

A trip to the library is a family activity: academics, culture, entertainment and togetherness wrapped in one paperback package. I usually can’t escape our local library without the use of a bag or wheelbarrow for my kids’ selections, and that’s after reading two or three books right on the spot. You can’t manufacture that kind of enthusiasm, but you can cultivate it among children and adults.

It also helps to have a bit of whimsy, which was my immediate thought the first time I saw a Little Free Library®. Book exchanges and hand-me-down copies are nothing new, but something about that over-sized birdhouse of a library struck a chord. And once you notice one of them, you can’t help but spot them everywhere.

A Little Free Library® outside of a school in Greendale, Wis.

A Little Free Library® outside of a school in Greendale, Wis.

They carry an element of surprise. You never know what a given library will offer on a given day. It’s an ever-changing inventory sustained by generosity and caring for the common good. And no two libraries ever seem to look the same.

There is also some home-state pride here. Free Little Library® originated in Wisconsin through the creativity of Todd Bol of Hudson and Rick Brooks of Madison and has grown dramatically in four years. You can read their story at littlefreelibrary.org.

Most striking to me is their world map, which shows every registered Little Free Library® location. They blanket the country and have almost limitless capacity for growth.

Just a few blocks from where my family owned our very first house, in Milwaukee, Wis., a woman has a Little Free Library® in her front yard. HER FRONT YARD. In an era where people tend to be more open with strangers online than with live humans sharing the same sidewalk, this is a wonderful throwback to a simpler era. An open invitation to visit. A small touch that makes a row of houses feel like a neighborhood. A neighborhood like a community.

I love that there also is a Little Free Library® right outside the front door of my children’s school. I pass it most days and can’t help but peek at what’s inside. I wonder about who will be next to pick and book, and what stories they may have to tell. Which reminds me, I think I have a few books to share.

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