Little Free Libraries expanding


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Local residents can expect to see more of those small, mailbox-sized houses first installed last year as neighborhood literary outlets throughout Iowa City.

The city of Iowa City has set aside funding assistance and resources for neighborhoods and residents interested in bringing them to their area.

The Longfellow, Grant Wood, Goosetown, North Side, Melrose, and Miller Orchard neighborhoods are all targeted for additional literary centers.

During a June 18 City Council meeting, Iowa City’s Creekside neighborhood was approved for a $500 PIN grant that will result in at least two new little libraries, Neighborhood Services Coordinator Marsha Bollinger said.

One is to be installed at Creekside Park, and one will be installed at a private residence.

“Iowa City is rich with reading material,” she said. “And these allow people to keep sharing that. They are really a community building effort.”

Bollinger said that between January and March, 12 have been installed and all but one are located in Iowa City proper. In 2012, half a dozen neighborhoods were granted approval to install nine libraries.

John Kenyon, the executive director of Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature, said the boxes’ physical presence has created a sort of literary domino effect.

“It’s an infectious kind of thing, he said,” he said. “It truly is grass-roots.”

Kenyon said kits can be purchased through the help of the Coralville Lowe’s store for between $150 and $200.

But for him, one of the most rewarding aspects of the program is seeing a neighborhood take on full pride for having a library. He said none are the same and can even be made out of salvaged barn wood, as one Iowa City resident has done.

In recent months, the Community Foundation of Johnson County’s local Altrusa Club Charitable Giving Fund have established a partial reimbursement fund program for residents looking to bring a library to their neighborhood while saving on construction costs.

The group is currently accepting applications, Kenyon said.

So where did the idea originate?

Three years ago, Todd Bol was searching for a way to memorialize his mother, who had been a teacher and lover of books. In his Hudson, Wis., home, he built a waterproof box resembling a one-room schoolhouse, and filled it with books. Outfitting it with a sign that read “Free Book Exchange,” Bol placed it on a post, like a residential mailbox and encouraged his neighborhood to take a book while returning a different one.

Bol said although the initiative has a truly global reach, the local efforts have resulted in one of the largest little library networks.

“You’ve got libraries all over the place,” he said. “You’re the natural fit. But there are towns across the country and neighborhoods that are longing to read.”

To date, Bol said there are nearly 10,000 little libraries total in 46 countries and in every U.S. state, with 500-700 more being built each month.

Regarding the topic of libraries closing across the nation in light of budget cuts and other reasons, Bol said the little-library program has become more important than ever.

“That’s like wanting to pitch off the air we breathe,” he said.

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