By Jon Cullick
These colorfully painted wooden boxes in front of people’s houses are some of the most charming and eye-catching things you will see in Bellevue. Perched on short poles or stone walls, these boxes have doors but no locks. And one more thing: they are filled with information and adventures.
These are Bellevue’s Little Free Libraries.
Whether you are a child or an adult, you will find in them books free for the taking. Or, if you’d prefer, you can leave a book or two.
The first one in Bellevue and in all of northern Kentucky is called the Bellevue Book Nook. Placed in front of St. John United Church of Christ, it was built by Girl Scout Tyler Poirier in 2012 as her Girl Scout Gold Award project.
A few months after Ryan and Catherine Salzman moved to Bellevue, they saw Tyler’s project. They were hooked. Ryan decided to initiate a project to bring Little Free Libraries to neighborhoods all around Bellevue.
Ryan explains that the idea originated with the Wisconsin-based Little Free Libraries (http://lfl.org). This non-profit organization started the trend about fifteen years ago to bring books into neighborhoods. Every library, Ryan explains, is an expression of individuals who want to extend their love of reading as a service to the community. In bringing this project to Bellevue, a big motivating factor for Ryan was a desire to support our local schools by encouraging children to read.
Equipped with only a couple of tools and an idea, Ryan built the first one for his own house. Eventually, he promoted the idea on the Bellevue Alliance Facebook page. But first, to comply with city zoning ordinances, he created a Little Free Library program with the City. He decided to keep the libraries on private property. This means that individual property owners can act as the stewards of their own libraries, monitoring, restocking, and sometimes repairing them. It’s a distribution of workload that makes the project work.
The original goal was to have five built and installed by January 2014 and ten by January 2015. Those goals have been met. So far, a total of eleven have been finished. Ryan has built eight of them. Along with the Girl Scout who built the first one, two owners, Tim Vogt and Lemual Ferguson, have built their own.
Bellevue resident Jenn Schenkel-Owens wanted a Little Free Library to share her lifelong love of books. She also wanted her own 5-year-old daughter to experience the fun of books. “To me, owning a Little Free Library was a way that I could do ‘my part’ in keeping books accessible and circulating in hopes that everyone could have the opportunity to fall in love with a book and its story,” says Jenn.
Elizabeth Joseph feels the same about her family’s Little Free Library: “We became interested in having a little library in front of our house because I love literature and I think a love of reading is one of the most precious gifts we can offer to others.” Elizabeth says, “I can’t think of a better way to promote reading to our children and our community than by having books readily available throughout town without any strings attached.”
Now a newly elected member of City Council, Ryan has partnered with J.C. Morgan, Executive Director of Campbell County Public Library (CCPL). The library is providing books through the Friends of CCPL, which creates bags of books that can be picked up at any library branch and used for the little libraries. Each bag contains about twenty or more books with a mix of classics, non-fiction, children’s books, and popular books that the librarians select.
The next phase of the Little Free Library project is the “Big Build.” Ryan will build thirty libraries for placement throughout Campbell County. CCPL will sell the units to individuals, who can then enter a decorating contest to be judged by the library. All of these activities will coincide with a week to promote reading in April.
The nature of reading is changing as more and more people are reading books and newspapers on small screens rather than on paper. But there is still a need for paper books. As Ryan says, the Little Free Libraries are “a unique, fun way to keep the hard copy tradition alive.” They are also a unique and fun way for members of the Bellevue community to share their love of books.
Both Jenn and Elizabeth express the joy that comes from that kind of sharing. “I am so proud to have a LFL,” Jenn reports, “and I’ve adored the experience so far. When I notice someone sorting through the books I find myself wondering, ‘What kind of book are they looking for?’ and I love the feeling of watching someone walk away with a couple new ones to conquer. . . . It’s so magical to see the inventory come and go. I never see anyone add books but ‘boom’ there they are. The best is the kids; they get so excited. . . makes my whole day.”
Elizabeth has had the same kind of experience with her Little Free Library. “I love that we can walk to the park and come home with a few new books to read and I love making that available to others around me,” Elizabeth says. “It has been a wonderful experience so far to own a little library. I have met many new people by chatting with them while they look through our library. Our library has never been vandalized and we have never run out of books. I love to see donations pour in from people all over town. It has been a great experience.”
Elizabeth sums it up for all of us in saying that the Little Free Library program is “another thing for our little town to be proud of.”