Opening the book on little free libraries

Inspiration struck Wendy Funk Schrag one day when she was pulling weeds. The inspirational seed grew into a blooming flower, spreading joy throughout their neighborhood and the rest of Newton.

Funk Schrag was at the corner of their property, which is at West 15th and Westborough Drive in Newton, in spring 2013. A lot of children were in the nearby duplexes playing outside instead of being inside with video games.

?I thought we?ve got a lot of these kids in the neighborhood right now,? Funk Schrag said. ?I think that would be a fun thing to do.?

The fun thing to do was something she read about in the Oprah magazine; it had to do with the Little Free Library movement. Funk Schrag wanted to put up a Little Free Library on their property.

Funk Schrag and husband Paul put up their Little Free Library in January 2014 on the edge of their property facing north where it?s easily accessible from West 15th.

?We are book lovers, so what could be better than running a library ? even if it?s a little one?? Schrag said.

The Schrags? Little Free Library is the only one in Newton (as of December). It contains about 40 books for children, teens and adults. Titles have included ?Charlotte?s Web,? ?The Grapes of Wrath? and ?The Hobbit.? The Schrags also have put seasonal books in the Little Free Library. During the holidays, they offered Christmas books and did the same at Halloween.

?We?re always looking for more books to keep rotating,? Funk Schrag said. ?I try to keep some of those older classics in there ? some of those older classics you hope kids will read as they?re growing up.?

Unlike other public libraries, patrons don?t need library cards ? they don?t even need to talk to anyone when they get a book. People have the option, when they take a book, of donating another book or bringing the borrowed book back. And there are no due dates. The Schrags don?t always see who uses the library, but sometimes they notice books are gone.

?I see it as a way of promoting libraries in general, because if you want to do a lot of reading, a little library isn?t going to be enough, but it might get you interested in going to the library,? Schrag said. ?I think this might get you into the library habit, you might say.?

Funk Schrag said her favorite day was when seven kids from the duplexes came over and got books. Then they sat in a circle and read.

?It was really fun at first,? Funk Schrag said. ?Our neighborhood changes a lot because these are all rentals,? she added, gesturing to the duplexes across the street.

People might be timid about walking into someone else?s yard to get books, but Funk Schrag doesn?t want them to be.

?We want people to stop and browse,? Funk Schrag said.

One such person is their mailman, who also likes to take books. The first time, Funk Schrag said, the mailman wrote something like this on a piece of paper, ?I took ?The Little Gingerbread Boy? for my grandchild. I?ll bring it back.? He also added a thanks.

?People can drive by and come visit us at any time,? Funk Schrag said.

Kids do bring books back and get more books. But if books don?t come back, the Schrags aren?t worried.

?We?re not terribly concerned if books disappear,? Funk Schrag said.

?The main thing is to promote reading and community,? Schrag said.

One of the advantages of having the Little Free Library is it helps people get to know their neighbors.And neighbors and friends have donated books to the library.

?There?s more books than you see at any one given time,? Schrag said.

Funk Schrag enjoys seeing people use the library.

?I get excited every time I see someone stopping by and taking a book,? she said. ?It?s just a lot of fun.?

Once in a while, when she notices someone there, she?ll go out and introduce herself to get to know who?s in the neighborhood.

?It?s been fun seeing people of all ages stopping,? Funk Schrag said. Usually people who stop are out walking, like parents with strollers, or kids on bikes.

?It?s a good feeling to share books that we?ve enjoyed and hope others will enjoy them too,? Schrag said.

Because kids sometimes have to cross the street to get to the little library, there?s a sign posted for them to be careful when crossing the road.

Even with all this fun, the Schrags don?t want to be the only ones in town with such a library.

?It would be fun if we weren?t the only one in town,? Schrag said. That way, people won?t have to drive across town ? they could just stay in their own neighborhoods.

The Little Free Library movement was started in 2009 by Todd Bol of Hudson, Wis., as a tribute to his mother, who loved reading and had been a schoolteacher, according to littlefreelibrary.org. Bol constructed a model of a one-room schoolhouse and filled it with books. He then attached it to a post in his yard.

?His neighbors and friends loved it,? the website stated. ?He built several more and gave them away. Each one had a sign that said, ?FREE BOOKS.??

Bol then teamed with Rick Brooks from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and they saw an opportunity to ?achieve a wide variety of goals for the common good.?

One of the Little Free Library movement?s goals was to have 2,510 little libraries in use, which was as many free public libraries Andrew Carnegie supported in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Carnegie?s support of the libraries was one of the duo?s inspirations, the website stated.

?Quickly, it just took off,? Funk Schrag said of the movement.

By August 2012, the goal had been met, a year and a half before the target date. As of January 2014, the number of registered little libraries in the world was estimated at about 15,000, and thousands more were being made.

In May 2012, littlefreelibrary.org officially was established.

Anyone interested in having a Little Free Library can purchase a premade version.

?You can buy different styles from the website,? Funk Schrag said.

Or, people can build their own and register with the organization. Those registering will get a plaque with a registration number on it, and then they?ll get put on the website map.

?The Little Free Library in our yard offers a way to share good things to read and to connect with each other as neighbors,? states a sheet of paper the Schrags, who are called library stewards, hand out to people. ?All of us can help by keeping this collection stocked with family friendly reading material for children, youth and adults, and keeping it free from harm (like vandalism). Whose library is this? It belongs to everybody ? neighbors, friends and people we don?t even know yet. Anyone can use it.?

by Wendy Nugent

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