For the past year, children have had a new activity to enjoy at the All-Abilities Playground near Lions Lake in Washington — reading.
Beyond the monkey bars, slides and swings is one of three Little Free Libraries that were set up by The Missourian around Washington last April to provide good quality books to people of all ages.
Other locations of The Missourian’s Little Free Libraries are near the tennis courts at Phoenix Park (near Target) and inside the Amtrak station in the Downtown Washington train depot.
Although there are no official numbers or records of how often people have found a book to enjoy, it’s clear the Little Free Libraries have been wildly popular, said Dawn Kitchell, The Missourian’s educational services director who spearheaded the project.
Not only does she see children and families reading together at the playground all of the time, that library is very often empty.
“Take a Book, Leave a Book” is the motto of Little Free Libraries, and people have understood that the books are free for them to take and enjoy.
Unfortunately, people have not been as quick to return a book in exchange for the one they’ve taken, said Gail McFatrich, a member of the Friends of the Washington Public Library, which has volunteered to maintain the book stock at The Missourian’s three Little Free Libraries.
The Friends visit all three little libraries on Mondays and Thursdays to check on the book supply and restock as needed, and the one at the All-Abilities Park is usually always empty, said Friends member Mary Emke.
Or if there are books that have been returned in exchange for one taken, they are often old and damaged or a title that nobody else seems to want, said Ann Replogle, another Friends member who helps with the libraries.
The Friends make a point of removing those old, damaged or unwanted books and replacing them with good quality books that have been donated.
Currently most of the books that are being placed in The Missourian’s three Little Free Libraries are either review copies that the newspaper received from publishers or gently used copies of popular titles that community members have donated.
“We have donors, like some of the Friends members, who shop at Goodwill and garage sales to buy and donate books to the Little Free Libraries,” said Kitchell.
“And we’d love to see teachers or parents who are doing any end-of-the-school-year spring cleaning and come across books that they think someone else would enjoy reading, to donate them to the Little Free Libraries, especially picture books,” Kitchell said.
There is an up side to seeing the library shelves empty — people are reading!
“The fact that it’s always empty, to me, is exciting, because it means we’re getting books into readers’ hands,” said Kitchell, noting that just proves to her that families are eager to have good, quality books at home.
The Friends agreed.
“We are still getting books out there. Our whole goal was to get literature out to the children and families of Washington,” said McFatrich.
And the fact that people are not replacing the books they’ve taken or replacing them with old, unwanted titles also is telling, said Kitchell. To her that means families don’t have a lot of good quality books in their homes that they are willing to part with.
“It’s exciting to know we are helping get books out in the community,” said Kitchell.
The book stock at The Missourian’s other two Little Free Libraries — at Phoenix Park and inside the Downtown train depot — is more steady, said Emke. People are either reading the books on site and returning them when they leave, or replacing the books they take with other titles.
However, the majority of readers at both of those libraries are teens and adults, Kitchell noted.
Children’s Picture Books
Children’s picture books are what’s most needed for the Little Free Libraries. There never seems to be enough of them to keep the library at the All-Abilities Park stocked, said McFatrich.
Paperback books are welcome as long as they are in decent condition.
Anyone who wants to donate books to the Little Free Libraries can go about it in a number of ways:
1. If they have just a few titles, they can take them directly to the Little Free Libraries and place them on the shelves.
2. If they have a sizable amount — enough to fill a bag or a box — they can label them as being for the Little Free Libraries and drop off the bag or box at any Missourian office or at the Washington Public Library.
It is key that the bag or box be clearly labeled for the Little Free Libraries to prevent confusion, said Kitchell.
3. Hold a book drive to benefit the Little Free Libraries.
The Washington Optimist Club did this among its members and collected several boxes of good books. Kitchell would love to see other organizations, businesses or groups do the same.
“So many people have children’s books on their shelves that their kids have grown beyond,” Kitchell said. “They just need a little nudge and an easy place to share them. It’s obvious in our first year with the Little Free Libraries, that children in our community could really benefit from those hand-me-downs.”
For more information or help in doing just that, people can contact Kitchell at 636-932-4301 or email@example.com.
And Now a Pantry
The “Little Free . . . ” concept of setting up an area in a public place where items can be placed for anyone in need to take has started to spread.
After The Missourian’s three Little Free Libraries were installed last spring, educators in the Washington School District began talking about adding one or more to their schools, and recently, students at Marthasville Elementary held a dance where admission was a children’s book that will be used to start a new Little Free Library the school is planning to set up in the Marthasville city park.
“We want to give visitors an opportunity to get their hands on books. We thought it would be nice for parents to be able to grab a picture book and read to their kids while enjoying an afternoon at the park,” said Miranda Straatmann, sixth-grade teacher and Student Council adviser at Marthasville Elementary.
The school is working with Four Rivers Career Center to build the Little Free Library and currently plans are for it to be installed in the fall, said Straatmann.
Last September, The Missourian reported on the plans of two Edgar Murray students in St. Clair to install Little Free Libraries at their city hall, as well as the school.
Four Rivers Area Family YMCA is in the process of establishing a Little Free Library inside the facility. Staff is building up its book collection and seeking donations from Y friends, although they don’t yet have a time frame for when the library will be open.
And in a twist on the Little Free Libraries, two Little Free Pantries have been set up in Washington by the Franklin County Homelessness Task Force.
One is located outside of the restrooms building at Rennick Riverfront Park in Downtown Washington, and a second is located under the pavilion at South Point Elementary.
The concept is the same as the Little Free Libraries, only with nonperishable food and personal care items — take what you need, give back what you can.
The Little Free Pantries are not for people who are homeless, but also for anyone who is in need.
Anyone can donate to the pantry. Nonperishable food items like peanut butter are best, as well as canned goods with easy-open pull tabs.
For more information about the Little Free Pantries, or any organization interested in adopting a pantry, people should contact Jane Maune with the Homeless Task Force at 636-262-0982.
Kitchell feels a sense of pride in seeing the “Little Free . . . ” idea multiply across the community. The Little Free Library concept was not one she created. The first was established in 2009 by Todd Bol in Wisconsin.
By 2011, Bol’s idea had become a nonprofit organization. Today there are more than 40,000 Little Free Libraries around the world.
As far as Kitchell is concerned, there can’t be too many.
Visit Them All
Of The Missourian’s three Little Free Libraries, the one at the All-Abilities Park experiences the most traffic, said Kitchell. She knows this because over the last year it has needed some minor repairs due to overuse.
“It’s well loved, you can see,” she remarked.
Jeff Wildt, of Don Wildt Sheet Metal and Heating Company, who built all three of The Missourian’s libraries free of charge, has been back to the park for on-site repair work.
Wildt takes great pride in his creations, which are more like works of art, and told Kitchell all three libraries come with a “lifetime guarantee.”
She encourages people who have visited the Little Free Library at the All-Abilities Park to make a point of visiting the other two, which offer surprises of their own.
The Little Free Library inside the Amtrak station is designed like an old-fashioned one-room schoolhouse and includes a peek hole in the roof where people can see a scene reminiscent of popular children’s stories.
And a geocache challenge begins at the Little Free Library near the tennis courts at Phoenix Park.
“The Little Free Libraries have been such a rewarding project,” Kitchell said. “Such a community effort to get them built and now, we hope a community effort to keep them in books!”