Little Free Libraries, Sharing the Love of ReadingJul 16, 2020 10:16AM ● By Mary Colarik
Mills’ Little Free Library at 139 W. Avenida Alessandro, SC.
by Mary Colarik
As a child I absolutely loved to read. My mom was a schoolteacher who felt very strongly that reading, writing, painting and bike riding were much better free time pursuits than watching TV. As a result, I became an avid reader at a young age.
A few years ago, while living in Ohio, a friend from my book club told me about a neighbor who was putting together a Little Free Library in a downtown Akron location in front of Summit Art Space. My curiosity was piqued, so I arranged an interview with her friend for an article about how to put together one of these libraries. In the process I took some time to do additional research on Little Free Libraries and became quite intrigued with the organization.
Shortly after moving to southwest San Clemente, while out walking my dog I noticed a couple of these libraries in my neighborhood right on people’s front properties-very accessible and visible to anybody passing by - so I became interested once again in Little Free Libraries. This interest prompted me to interview local residents who were most happy to tell me about the Little Free Library houses they have installed on their respective properties.
An Unexpected Gift
Kim Montoya, whose Little Free Library is located at 1307 South Ola Vista, received the library kit as a birthday gift from her mom a few years ago. Her parents, who have retired to Florida, have enjoyed borrowing books from these libraries during their travels … including their visits to San Clemente.
An avid reader, Montoya devours 60-80 books a year, and since there isn’t space in their home to store such a huge collection year after year, placing a little library on their property seemed like the perfect solution. Montoya could share her books with the community by placing them in a library in front of her home.
Kim says she loves talking to neighbors about their favorite books when they are choosing one from or donating to her library. Those borrowing are encouraged to borrow and/or donate books to these libraries, and those who erect them are considered stewards of the libraries responsible for keeping the shelves well-maintained for easy access.
For Montoya, one of the greatest rewards comes from the people walking their dogs or jogging by who exclaim without fail, “I love your library!”
Motivation by Others
Megan Mills was inspired by Montoya’s library when she and her husband were renting a home nearby. So when they purchased their home a few blocks away at 139 W. Avenida Alessandro, she told her husband, Rick, that she wanted to build a Little Free Library and install it on their new property.
They cleaned up the overgrown front yard and patio and built the library one Saturday afternoon. Including a cute handle and small roof in their project, for its construction they used scrap wood, Plexiglas, and more … all leftover materials from houses they have previously flipped.
Like Montoya, Mills has always enjoyed reading, and she has passed that love of reading along to her grown children, a daughter and twin sons. And since the Mills also have a four-year-old granddaughter, Megan has added building a second library for children’s books onto her husband’s “honey do” list.
Montoya’s neighbors love borrowing and leaving books in the library. As the steward, she rotates books out and restocks with new titles when the library gets a little “stale;” sometimes even using her 83-year-old mom’s large credit at Beach Town Books to freshen up the selections.
An Article Inspires
Sandy Woodward is another San Clementean whose Little Free Library is situated in front of the home she shares with her husband at 838 Camino De Los Mares. An article she read in the LA TIMES several-years-ago about one of these libraries in Pasadena sparked her interest in having one on her property someday.
She was charmed by the story of Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin who built a wood container to look like a one room schoolhouse, put it on a post on his front lawn and filled it with books as a tribute to his mom; a school teacher who had a love for books and had recently passed away. The idea took off with the building of a few more libraries around the Midwest, and in 2012 the Little Free Library was officially incorporated as a non-profit organization.
Finally, Woodward’s long time desire of building a Little Free Library in front of her home came to fruition. A neighbor left a piece of furniture on the curb and said the Woodwards could use it as a design element to build their library. Mike, who is a macro photographer of rare gemstones and fossils, recycled one of his metal art pieces of Peruvian opal for the rooftop.
Much to Sandy’s delight the community has embraced their Little Free Library-often leaving very gratifying and kind notes about how much it means to the many different individuals who take and leave books.
Sandy finds a variety of titles to place in the library, including children’s books, tiny inspirational books, novels, young adult, and how-to books-often picking up new books from San Clemente’s Friends of Library bookstore. And in addition, the Woodwards have placed a bench next to the library and have a collection of around 200 more books in their courtyard to share with book lovers.
Checking it Out
The Little Free Library website is loaded with information, including a few short videos on how to put together your very own library box. It is suggested that the libraries be placed in a good spot that is easily accessible. The website also offers inspiration on the LFL Instagram account and Pinterest. The worldwide nonprofit organization is dedicated to promoting reading while building community spirit through the distribution of free books placed in their tiny neighborhood library boxes. Their motto is, “always a gift, never for sale.”
Each Little Free Library is registered with a charter number that is displayed on a plaque on the box and is listed on a worldwide map. There are approximately 100,000 Little Free Libraries around the world. Although the website sells a variety of kit styles (as does Amazon), individuals are encouraged to build the little libraries with scrap wood and other recycled items.
These libraries reassemble public bookcases with a protective roof and small door. Some people get very creative with their designs, making miniature replicas of their own homes, designing libraries to look like a red English phone booth with multiple shelves, or really letting creative juices flow with one-of-a-kind elaborate and colorful artwork.
Through my research I have discovered that San Clemente has nine Little Free Libraries. For more information check out littlefreelibrary.org - maybe you will be intrigued enough to build one for your neighborhood or perhaps inspired to put together a library box as a creative project with your children-instilling the love of reading for many more generations to come.