By Jonathan S. Cullick, Northern Kentucky University
While retrieving the newspapers from our yard on a recent soggy Sunday morning, I paused to gaze at the Little Library.
Nearly one year ago, our front lawn became home to a small, colorful wooden box about the size of a large bird house. Ryan Salzman, a resident in our city, built and installed it for us. My wife, Cheryl, and I sealed, painted, decorated, and filled it with books. All of us were motivated by a desire to share our love of reading with fellow readers in our community.
Now, looking at it, I thought, “It’s weathered the year nicely.” At the same time, I made mental notes: “This spring, I need to re-seal that nail and put some touch-ups where the paint has chipped.” On this wet morning, the Little Library was asking for a little tender loving care.
The first Little Library in Bellevue and in all of northern Kentucky is called the Bellevue Book Nook. Placed in front of St. John United Church of Christ, it was built by Girl Scout Tyler Poirier in 2012 as her Girl Scout Gold Award project.
Then two new residents, Ryan and Catherine Salzman, moved to Bellevue. When they saw Tyler’s project just around the corner from their new house, they were hooked. Ryan decided to initiate a project to bring Little Free Libraries to neighborhoods all around Bellevue.
The nature of reading is changing as more and more people are reading books and newspapers on small screens rather than on paper. But there is still a need for paper books. Ryan saw that the Little Free Libraries are “a unique, fun way to keep the hard copy tradition alive.” The Little Libraries are a unique and fun way for members of a community to share their love of books.
Equipped with only a couple of tools and an idea, Ryan built the first one for his own house. Eventually, he promoted the idea on a Facebook page that he and Bellevue resident Tim Vogt created, called the Bellevue Alliance. But first, to comply with city zoning ordinances, Ryan created a Little Free Library program with the City. He decided to keep the libraries on private property. This means that individual property owners can act as the stewards of their own libraries, monitoring, restocking, and sometimes repairing them. It’s a distribution of workload that makes the project work.
Moreover, a key to the success of this literacy movement, Ryan explains, is for every library to be an expression of individuals who want to extend their love of reading as a service to the community.
The next phase of the Little Free Library project was the “Big Build.” Ryan built thirty Little Libraries for placement throughout Campbell County, Kentucky. Campbell County Public Library sold the units to individuals, who were invited to enter a decorating contest to be judged by the library. All of these activities coincided with a week to promote reading in the county. Ryan, who now serves on our town’s city council, rightly calls this program a “model for our region.”
We got our own Little Library in last year’s Big Build program. Because our street is an active traffic area, our Little Library gets frequent visitors. We check it daily to be sure it is well stocked. Thanks to many individuals, our basement has amassed a collection of books for readers of all ages. When books are taken (and we love it when books are taken!), we have others to replace them.
We notice changes in the Little Library’s inventory as we pass it on our way to and from the house. We don’t usually see people stopping by, so we know we’ve had visitors when we see that books have been taken or new ones have appeared. When we do actually see someone visiting our library, we don’t stare. We don’t want anyone to feel like they are being watched. Still, occasionally, we get glimpses of our fellow book lovers.
Adult readers with more well honed reading tastes know exactly what they are looking for. They pause briefly to take or leave a book on their brisk daily walks.
We have seen young parents pushing strollers, pausing to check out the children’s books. As they walk away, we’ll see little hands in the stroller holding a book.
Another time, a young couple walking by asked me for permission to take a book. They wanted to know if they had to return it or pay for it. I assured them that they are welcome to take whatever they want, whenever they want, and keep it at no charge!
One interesting aspect of having a Little Library is discovering which books are most popular in our part of Bellevue. Some books “fly off the shelf,” as the saying goes.
For adults, the most popular books have been anything written by James Paterson and John Grisham.
For younger readers and children, the most popular books have been the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling and all of the Golden Books.
The all around most popular book is also a children’s book: Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White. Every copy we put out finds a new home quickly. It’s reassuring to know that children are still enjoying this great classic about the friendship between a patient spider and a gentle pig named Wilbur.
Each Little Library, Ryan once explained to me, is an expression of the individual owners. I agree with him. I’ll also add to that statement. Our Little Library has become an expression of all the visitors who stop by our house to leave and take books. They shape it through the books they give. And because we try to restock with books people will like, they even shape it with the books that they take. Our Little Library is owned by Cheryl and Jon Cullick, but it belongs to every reader in Bellevue.