As a young nerd I was never the sort of child who had to be encouraged to read.
My parents were more concerned that I spent altogether too much time with my nose in a book and not enough time playing outside with the neighborhood kids. The Boomer Generation ruled our neighborhood. But it came as a rude awakening to me at around age seven to discover that few of them enjoyed reading. Not only that, but they had an ingrained distrust of anyone their own age who thought twice about more or less anything.
Suffice it to say, books were my best friends in grade school. And once I discovered that the public library was in walking distance and I was allowed to go there by myself, well, the writing was on the wall.
I’ve been a lifelong lover of public libraries. Wherever I’ve lived, getting a card at the local library has always felt like a vital part of feeling at home. These days, when every laptop can provide access to digital books anywhere anytime, the notion of a brick and mortar library might seem hopelessly quaint to the modern generations. But bibliophiles are nothing if not imaginative. And the mere fact that the times have changed hasn’t altered the imaginative landscape for those who feel naked without a book bag.
A few years ago while walking through one of the old neighborhoods here in D.C. I noticed a little house on a post right beside the sidewalk. At first glance I thought it might be a birdhouse. But as I got closer I discovered that it was a little lending library. A sign on the side of it encouraged passersby to take a book, and return it later, or leave another in its place. Wow, I thought. What a cool idea.
I didn’t realize it was part of a grassroots library movement. In fact, the Little Free Library craze is a relatively new phenomenon. The first one was put up in 2009 by a Wisconsin man named Todd Boll who did it to honor his mother. The idea was immediately embraced by locals and spread like wildfire. Today there are more than 15,000 Little Free Libraries all around the world. You can read all about it on their website, as well as keep up with their blog, get a kit to build your own Little Free Library, and much more.
On a recent trip to Dunedin, Florida, I had just finished the book I’d brought along to read on the plane, and was wondering if I could find a bookstore nearby to get something for the trip home, when I was delighted to discover a Little Free Library nestled under a palm tree at the water’s edge. I placed my book inside it and perused the books available. As it turned out, none of them caught my fancy. But that’s okay.
It’s encouraging just to know that in this world filled with strife and distress there are altruistic book lovers out there sowing the seeds of literacy far and wide.
Sometimes, hope is the thing with pages.