Little libraries sprout across Iowa


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Peculiar little mailbox-sized houses have begun sprouting up in various Iowa City neighborhoods. A closer look inside these structures reveals literary treasures.

A fan of free literature can pick up any book from the all-weather Little Free Libraries now open at many Iowa City locations. And they won’t get mad if you don’t return the books.

Todd Bol, the founder of the project, spoke at the Iowa City Public Library Wednesday night, encouraging community members to bombard their neighborhoods with Free Little Libraries.

“Plant the seed of literature,” he repeatedly told the crowd at the event.

The project came to Iowa City in February with one little library and has now grown into a movement. Owners of the libraries, called “stewards” in the program, have very deep connections with their structures.

One steward said she constructed her little free library with wood from her father’s 100-year-old barn.   

John Kenyon, the executive director of Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature, said the idea of bringing Little Free Libraries to Iowa City is a big step toward further strengthening the city’s literary heritage. Kenyon’s office first contacted Bol a year ago, and it has since partnered with Little Free Libraries to bring more book repositories to the city.

“The program literally takes free literature and brings it out for the community,” he said. “It seemed like the most logical thing for us to get involved with.”

Iowa City is one of UNESCO’s six Cities of Literature in the world.

In June, the Iowa City City Council approved funding for nine Free Little Libraries in the city. Lowe’s is also sponsoring the initiative by providing free workshops to build the repositories in the beginning of 2013.

Bol said the movement — which now spans more than 40 states in United States and even such countries as Pakistan and Afghanistan — began with a mini library in his yard.

“The same way as they reacted to puppies, they reacted to the library,” he said about his neighbors’ reactions. “I was fascinated by that, and we wanted to try it out.”

Bol said he is confident the number of free little libraries in Iowa will increase exponentially. There are around 50 in Iowa, and both Bol and Kenyon expect nearly 500 more by this time next year.

Iowa City Public Library Director Susan Craig said she was delighted when the local City of Literature organization presented her with a miniature library last year.

“I put it in my yard, and it is gorgeous to look at,” she said. “Children were sliding the door of the library the very next day.”

“You don’t need 22 steps or go to college to get a library,” cofounder of the program Rick Brooks said. “You just get one, build one, paint one. It’s as easy as that.”

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