Photographs and article by Jon Cullick
While retrieving the newspapers from our yard on a recent soggy Sunday morning, I paused to gaze at our Little Library.
Nearly one year ago, our front lawn on Bonnie Leslie Avenue became home to this small wooden box. Ryan Salzman, who started the Little Library program in Bellevue, built and installed it for us. My wife, Cheryl, and I sealed, painted, decorated, and filled it with books. All of us were motivated by a desire to share our love of reading with fellow readers in Bellevue.
Now, looking at it, I thought, “It’s weathered the year nicely.” At the same time, I made mental notes: “This spring, I need to re-seal that nail and put some touch-ups where the paint has chipped.” On this wet morning, the Little Library was asking for a little tender loving care.
We got our Little Library in last year’s Big Build program. Sponsored by Campbell County Public Library, the goal was to place thirty libraries throughout the county. Ryan built the units and installed them for anyone requesting assistance. He rightly calls this program a “model for our region.”
Because Bonnie Leslie is an active traffic area, our Little Library gets frequent visitors. We check it daily to be sure it is well stocked. Thanks to many individuals, our basement has amassed a collection of books for readers of all ages. When books are taken (and we love it when books are taken!), we have others to replace them.
We notice changes in the Little Library’s inventory as we pass it on our way to and from the house. We don’t usually see people stopping by, so we know we’ve had visitors when we see that books have been taken or new ones have appeared. When we do actually see someone visiting our library, we don’t stare. We don’t want anyone to feel like they are being watched. Still, occasionally, we get glimpses of our fellow book lovers.
We remember a summer day when several 8-12 year olds spent a long time examining the books—slowly, intently, one at a time. The smallest girl had to keep jumping up to see what was in the Little Library, so one of the older kids struggled to hold her up so she could peer over the edge to view the Little Library’s contents.
Adult readers with more well honed reading tastes know exactly what they are looking for. They pause briefly to take or leave a book on their brisk daily walks.
We have seen young parents pushing strollers, pausing to check out the children’s books. As they walk away, we’ll see little hands in the stroller holding a book.
People have driven up and parked next to our Little Library with a mission. They carry a stack of books from their car to leave with us. Or they choose a stack of books to take back to their car. Once when I was doing yard work, a gentleman pulled over and told me that he was driving to all the Little Libraries in Bellevue to locate books for his grandchildren to read over the summer.
Another time, a young couple walking by asked me for permission to take a book. They wanted to know if they had to return it or pay for it. I assured them that they are welcome to take whatever they want, whenever they want, and keep it at no charge!
Because we have noticed a demand for books across all age groups, we keep our Little Library stocked with selections for everyone. I organize the library with books for children on the left, adolescents in the middle, and adults on the right. This arrangement makes it easy for us to see at a glance which category need restocking.
One interesting aspect of having a Little Library is discovering which books are most popular in our part of Bellevue. Some books “fly off the shelf,” as the saying goes.
For adults, the most popular books have been anything written by James Paterson and John Grisham.
The most popular books for adolescents have been those published by Sarah Dessen. Books for girls have been in greater demand than books for boys. (This phenomenon is not unique to Bellevue. It reflects a national pattern among adolescent readers.) I wish we could get more boys interested in reading. I always make sure we have “boys’ books” such as adventure novels by Gary Paulsen. As an English teacher, I try to stay up to date on books that are popular among teenage readers.
For younger readers and children, the most popular books have been the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling and all of the Golden Books.
The all around most popular book is also a children’s book: Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White. Every copy we put out finds a new home quickly. It’s reassuring to know that children are still enjoying this great classic about the friendship between a patient spider and a gentle pig named Wilbur.
Each Little Library, Ryan once explained to me, is an expression of the individual owners. I agree with him. I’ll also add to that statement. Our Little Library has become an expression of all the visitors who stop by our house to leave and take books. They shape it through the books they give. And because we try to restock with books people will like, they also shape it with the books that they take. The Little Library at 111 Bonnie Leslie Avenue is owned by Cheryl and Jon Cullick, but it belongs to every reader in Bellevue.
Final Note: Ryan Salzman tells me that some libraries from the Campbell County Big Build have not been installed yet. Anyone wanting help getting theirs finished and mounted can send Ryan a message (email@example.com). He would be happy to help get it in use.