Eight years ago, wooden boxes on posts began popping up in neighborhoods across the country.
They contained books that were free for the taking. People would take a book and leave one.
These small lending libraries were the brainchild of Todd Bol, of Hudson, Wisconsin, who initially built a model of a one-room schoolhouse full of books as a memorial to his mother and then started the nonprofit Little Free Library.
In the past year, Little Free Library has made a new friend — Girl Scouts.
“We really started to see stories of Girl Scouts building libraries,” said Margret Aldrich, program manager for Little Free Library, based in Hudson. Then the organization realized that many of the applicants for free Little Free Library kits were Girl Scouts.
“It’s picked up over the past year,” she said.
Aldrich is aware of more than 500 Little Free Libraries set up by Girl Scouts.
For example, Girl Scout Maya Bradfield of Los Angeles currently is looking to raise $800 on the crowd-funding site Indiegogo to build a Little Free Library. It’s part of her work toward the Girl Scout Silver Award.
Elizabeth Longo, of Portland, Texas, built 10 last year, after getting plywood, screws and paint donated from local hardware and paint stores. She raised money through cookie sales to pay the registration fees to Little Free Library and have the boxes added to its worldwide map.
A neighbor with a woodworking shop in his garage helped Longo build the boxes.
“I made them from scratch,” she said. “He just supervised and made sure I didn’t cut off my fingers.”
She installed boxes in five Portland public parks, and reserved five as backup. She was working toward the Girl Scout Gold Award.
“Girl Scouts is all about bringing the community together,” Longo said. It comes together when people share books and talk about them, she said.
The project also connects kids to books, she said, particularly when the boxes are in public parks.
Longo was a homeschooled senior last year and is now a freshman at Texas A&M in Corpus Christi.
In 2015 Danielle Heiert of Campbell County, Kentucky, organized fundraisers to fund more than 40 boxes as a community service project toward the Girl Scout Gold Award. And Girl Scouts of Southwest Texas plans to build 300 Little Free Libraries in San Antonio in honor of the city’s 300th anniversary in 2018.
Libraries will be placed in areas of San Antonio considered “book deserts,” said Stephanie Finleon Cortez, chief development and communications officer at Girl Scouts of Southwest Texas. “Community service is a core value of Girl Scouting,” she said. “Girls Scouts establishes a sense of learning for girls,” and they want to extend that to others.
In 2015, a Little Free Library Kickstarter campaign said its goal was to “water book deserts.”
People interested in setting up a Little Free Library can build their own and register it or buy a box from the organization. They can also apply for a free box if they plan to locate it in an area where books are scarce.
While Little Free Libraries are embraced by Girl Scouts and applauded by many librarians, not everyone is a fan.
Two Toronto librarians are irked by Little Free Library. They describe the trend as self-congratulatory, writing in the Journal of Radical Librarianship that the boxes mostly appear in “gentrified urban landscapes.”
Little Free Library is not really a movement to end book deserts, they wrote. Jane Schmidt, librarian at Ryerson University in Toronto, and Jordan Hale, an original cataloguer and reference specialist for the University of Toronto, called press coverage of the organization “obsequious,”
But Little Free Library is forging ahead. It’s developed several Girl Scout patches that can be awarded to scouts for their work with Little Free Library.
“The 60,000 Little Free Libraries around the world are like twinkling stars of the Milky Way, and Girl Scouts are a big part of that,” Bol said in a statement.
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