Connecting neighbors through books

Kelly Stopp, a second-grade teacher at Winnona Park Elementary School in Decatur, was surprised by students and parents with this Little Free Library as an end-of-the-year class gift. She said it became a symbol for the school and a great way to catch up with reading and meet new neighbors. Photo by Marta Garcia

It may be called Little Free Library (LFL) but it is a big program that’s spreading all over the country and the world.

No late fees. No restrictions. No library card necessary. It’s free and for everybody. The concept is very simple; you build your own weather-resistant box, put it in your front your yard, and fill it with books to share with your community.

“I think that the purpose is to build community, get to know your neighbors and to promote free and easy access to books for everyone. Neighbors who don’t have transportation can easily get to a Little Free Library. Lots of tweens/teens use the library as they are walking and biking around the community,” said Tris Sicignano, who built the first Little Free Library in East Lake.

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According to the DeKalb resident, at first there was a bit of apprehension among her neighbors but then the community warmed up to the idea. Now, Sicignano said, people come by all the time to borrow and donate books.

“The children in the neighborhood love it. After my Little Free Library went up, several neighbors also have decided to put up libraries of their own. We even have a website listing all of the libraries in East Lake (eastlakelittlelibrary.weebly.com),” she added.

A map on the LFL website shows more than 100 of them in Georgia, 16 in DeKalb, mostly in the Decatur area.

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Based on a take-a-book, leave-a-book philosophy, the idea started in 2009 in Hudson, Wis., when Todd Bol mounted a wooden container, designed to look like a school house, on a post on his lawn as a tribute to his mother, who was a book lover and school teacher. Bol shared his idea with his partner Rick Brooks who found many ways to spread the word, and the idea spread rapidly.

“Instead of seeing books only in school or public libraries, kids and adults can find things to read on their daily walks, then take the books home with them,” said Caroline Thompson, a Brookhaven resident who once a week visits the LFL in her neighborhood.

For second-grade teacher Kelly Stopp, the LFL located in Winnona Park Elementary School’s front yard in Decatur is a symbol for children and families to remind them how important literacy is in the community.

“The students knew my love for literature and books so they surprised me with this wonderful end-of-the-year class gift. Students and parents worked together. It is a piece of history for, not only that class, but for our school forever,” Stopp said.

The teacher added that the idea is to share gently used books that individuals love and want to share with somebody else, and it’s been a great resource not only for the school but the community.

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“I noticed every time the number of books in the library gets a little bit low I drive by the next day and somebody has refilled the library. So it’s lovely to see families go there after dismissal at the end of the day, stop by the little library and pick up a few things and refill it,” she said.

To be part of the initiative one can make a free library on one’s own. There is a one-time payment of $34.95 per library to the Little Free Library organization (www.littlefreelibrary.org) to receive a steward’s packet of support materials, an official charter sign and number for the library that shows that it is officially a member of the network and it can be listed on the world map.

“It’s great to know that a small group of people can change the world and make a big difference in a small area,” concluded Stopp.

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