Literacy on your lawn

Book lovers cultivate mini-library culture in Fargo-Moorhead

Kayla Van Eps, MSUM Multimedia Journalism Major

Adding a reading bench next the their Little Free Library, these Stewards went with bold colors to attract the attention of drivers on South University Drive in Fargo, N.D.

Like flowers after a spring rain, tiny wooden boxes filled with books are popping up on lawns and yards across the Fargo-Moorhead area.

Owners of these curiosity-invoking conversation pieces can be called curators, bibliophiles, neighborhood liaisons, stewards and, most importantly, librarians.

Dubbed Little Free Libraries, these little perches are handmade and erected in the front yards of homes and businesses around the area and around the world. Some owners even have ribbon-cutting and welcome activities to kick off the grand opening of their miniature libraries.

The phenomenon has swept across the nation and an estimated 55 countries across the world. It started in Hudson, Wis. where Todd Bol made the first Little Free Little Library as a tribute to his mother, a school teacher and lover of books, and as a way to share books with his neighbors. According to the official Little Free Library website, Bol built several more libraries and gave them away after the success he had with his own library.

The idea spread throughout the area, catching the attention of Rick Brooks, who, together with Bol, developed the concept of the libraries into a grassroots movement that is sweeping the nation. Bol and Brooks’ mission to promote literacy and build a sense of community exploded. They had a goal of registering 2,510 Little Free Libraries, which is  one more library than the 2,509 public libraries that Andrew Carnegie promoted at the turn of the 19th century.

The entrepreneurial duo met their goal in August 2012, a full year and a half before their projected date, with the “take-a-book, leave-a-book” concept appearing in front yards, public parks and even coffee shops.

Little libraries help turn strangers into neighbors

Brandt is the owner of the first registered Little Free Library in North Dakota. Her
steward number is 99, meaning she is the 99th person to register a Little Free
Library through littlefreelibrary.org.

Kristi Brandt, a Fargo sixth-grade teacher, operates one of the first Little Free Libraries in Fargo, and the first registered in North Dakota. Brandt discovered a little free library in Detroit Lakes, Minn., and knew instantly that she had to have one.

“Reading is a big part of what I do (as a teacher),” Brandt said. “I figured if I’m going to promote literacy in my classroom, I should promote it in my yard, too.”

Brandt said that not only has she seen a constant turnover of books in her Little Free Library, she has also noticed it brings her neighborhood together.

“People I have never met before … in my neighborhood are coming up to my door thanking me for having it in my yard,” Brandt said.

In the two years since Brandt set up her library, she has noticed them appearing all around town and sees fun variations. A library steward on South University Drive added a bench next to their Little Free Library, Brandt says. Another steward she knows stocks her library with dog treats for neighbors who walk their dogs past the library.

Rain, wind and snow are no match for these sturdy literacy legacies. Brandt has never had a problem with books being ruined by rain or snow.

“Somehow, it stays dry year-round,” she said, mentioning that the library is in need of a new coat of stain and varnish before winter blows in.

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DIY Woodshop partners with foundation to sprout more libraries

Cher Hensrud, a program officer at Fargo-Moorhead Area Foundation got involved with

Cher Hensrud of the Fargo-Moorhead Area Foundation and Todd Bol, the creator of Little Free Library, talk at the DIY Woodshop even to build six donated libraries for the community.

Little Free Libraries after she met Bol at the “Rethink Learning” TedX Fargo event in August.

Together with co-workers at the Fargo-Moorhead Area Foundation, the DIY Woodshop and United Way of Fargo, Hensrud raised money so the foundation could purchase four kits for the community. Bol also donated two Little Free Library kits to the cause, all six of which were assembled and distributed at an event held at DIY Woodshop.

The first of these community-provided libraries was donated to the Nokomis Child Care Center. Hensrud and her co-workers held a ribbon-cutting ceremony and United Way donated the first books to the library.

Bol, along with staff and children from the Nokomis Child Care Center participate in a ribbon-cutting ceremony hosted by the Fargo Chamber of Commerce in celebration of their new Little Free Library.

Hensrud wants to do more to promote literacy throughout the Fargo-Moorhead area, and has lined up four more kits to be donated to the community, but says after this, she wants the community to take over the project and she hopes to see more and more libraries all over town and in the rural communities in the area as well.

“The beauty of this is it is a grassroots movement,” Hensrud said. “There is no big organization, there is no bureaucracy, the whole theme is ‘take one, give one back.’”

The Fargo-Moorhead Area Foundation will organize a public meeting, tentatively scheduled for the end of October, to help inspire and inform the community about ways people can participate in the movement and places they can seek resources to make their own Little Free Libraries.

Find a Little Free Library near you:

  • 128 32nd Ave. N. Fargo, N.D.
  • 2901 3rd St. N. Fargo, N.D.
  • 906 S. University Drive, Fargo, N.D.
  • Nokomis Child Care Center 618 23rd St. S. Fargo, N.D.
  • Catalyst Medical Center, 1800 21st Ave. S. Fargo, N.D.
  • 3800 block of 25th Street. S. Fargo, N.D.
  • 510 5th Ave. Moorhead, Minn.

If you know of a library that isn’t on the list, please add the address in the comments below.

For inspiration and ideas to start your own Little Free Library see this Pinterest board of other Little Free Libraries that have been constructed across the country.

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