Growing ‘little libraries’ shows you can’t overdue books

This newly installed Little Free Library at 253 Bright St. was decorated by the neighbourhood children. From left are: Steward Lauren Davidson, Anne-Belle Dunn, 8, Ava Smith, 9, Xavier Serratore, 7, Ally Osborne Smith, 9, and Arthur Davidson, 7. Cathy Dobson

Cathy Dobson

In just a few short weeks, Lauren Davidson says her Little Free Library has made a big impact.

Not only does the colourful wooden box on her front lawn provide a free book to anyone who wants one, it’s become a gathering spot for area children and a great way for Davidson to meet more neighbours.

“Having our own library is the coolest thing ever,” she says.  “It starts so many conversations around books. And I’ve invited local artists to leave art and short stories so the community can share in those too.”

Davidson installed her Little Free Library in June, joining a worldwide movement that arrived in Sarnia about five years ago and took off during the pandemic.

The number of Little Free Libraries in Sarnia-Lambton has doubled to at least 45 over the past two years, and 13 more are expected to launch this summer.  As many as 30 could be operating in Sarnia alone by September.

The premise is simple.  Anyone who wants one can take a book without obligation. If they like, they can donate back. The Little Free Library organization encourages owners to become registered stewards, so they show up on the Little Free Library app and people can easily find them.  Stewards also have access to publisher giveaways and other perks.

The movement was started 13 years ago by Todd Bol, an educator in Wisconsin who built a mini model of a schoolhouse in memory of his mom who was a teacher.  He filled it with books that anyone could take at no cost.

Literacy Lambton had run a program called “Take a Book” at various agencies, but it closed down during the pandemic.

“Once it hit, I felt it was important to champion reading in neighbourhoods,” said executive director Tracy Pound, who urged homeowners, clubs, churches and businesses to install Little Free Libraries.

Service clubs got on board and several were built with a Sarnia Community Foundation grant.

“The magic of Little Free Libraries, and why I love it so much, is that it puts literacy into neighbourhoods. It gives people a chance to meet each other and connect over a book,” said Pound, who book-bombs new ones with stock from the agency.

If inventory gets low, stewards can reach out on social media, ask for a book-bombing from Literacy Lambton, or get donations from books stores and sales.

“What’s happening in Sarnia-Lambton is really a phenomenon. It’s all about children, teens and adults taking a book and giving a book,” Pound said.

“The goodness of Little Free Libraries is that it’s really owned by the community.”

Perhaps that’s why vandalism has not been a big issue, she added.

“I’ve talked to a lot of stewards and I’m not aware of any vandalism.”

Last winter, some Little Free Libraries were converted to pantries to provide needed toiletries or warm clothing.

Davidson hopes hers will become an art and reading hub for the Bright Street neighbourhood.

“I love reading and I love our neighbourhood so I’m really excited to be doing this,” said Davidson, who posts about her library on Instagram (@madeonbright).

“You can’t beat it for a conversation piece.”

QUICK STUDY OF LITTLE FREE LIBRARIES (LFLs)

* To find local LFLs, Go to Literacy Lambton’s Facebook page. The top pinned post has an up-to-date list;

* Stewards around the world register their LFLs at www.littlefreelibrary.org. Download a mobile app to locate them all;

* As estimated 150,000 LFLs exist in 108 countries;

* A dozen more are about to be installed locally, largely due to local Rotary clubs;

* 92% of people say their neighbourhood feels like a friendlier place because of a LFL;

* 72% of volunteer stewards have met more neighbours because of LFLs.