Little libraries open their doors to readers across town

(STILLWATER, OKLA – April 24, 2015) — Drivers, joggers and bicyclists may be seeing more and more tiny little buildings popping up in unexpected places as they travel through Stillwater. The small buildings, called "Little Free Libraries” (LFL), are part of a huge trend sweeping the nation. Stillwater now has at least five of these structures that allow community members to give and take books.

“’Little Free Libraries’ are really just boxes full of books, where neighbors can borrow a book or give a book for others to read,” said Lynda Reynolds, Stillwater Public Library director. “It is a wonderful and fun way for our community to share books and encourage each other to read.”

The “Little Free Library” movement started in 2009, when a Wisconsin man built a model of a small schoolhouse, placed it in his front yard and filled it with books for neighbors to take. More and more of these libraries were built with the goal of promoting literacy and building community. Over 25,000 LFLs across the globe have been registered on the LFL website.

The local library decided to get in on this trend.

“Some libraries have been leery of LFLs out of fear that people will stop coming to libraries,” said Reynolds. “But Stillwater Public Library believes in promoting reading in any way possible, so we knew that we wanted to be part of this clever way to get books into more people’s hands.”

Jim Long, husband of one of the librarians, built the first LFL, called a “Stillwater Public Library Book Branch.” The library staff decided to place the little blue building in a local business where people generally linger for large amounts of time.

Mandy Neil jpgBranch #1 is inside the Blue Spruce Ice Cream and Coffee Shop located at 1916 N. Perkins Rd. in the Lakeview Pointe Shopping Center, and offers readers an array of books to borrow donated through the Friends of the Library.

“I see people taking books all the time,” said Mike Catlett, Blue Spruce staff member. “Especially on busy nights.”

OSU student, Bailey Gilbert, is one of the Branch #1 fans.

(Photo: OSU student Mandy Neil chooses a book from the public library’s Little Free Library located in Blue Spruce.)

“It’s a great way to put reading out in a place where people often already are,” said Bailey. “I also really like that people can put books back in the library.”                             

At the same time that Branch #1 was having its Grand Opening, the Westwood Neighborhood Association began planning its own foray into librarianship.

Chris Wood and Linda Watson learned about LFLs from Wood’s sister who has one in her own neighborhood.

“We thought it was a great idea,” said Wood. “We wanted our LFL to be shaped like a house with a white picket fence like our own home.”

Linda Watson and Chris Wood jpgWood, whose LFL is located just west of the Fourth Ave. and Orchard intersection, used a YouTube tutorial to show him how to construct the building. He then used his interest in microcontrollers as inspiration to install a small light that turns on at night and whenever someone opens the LFL door.

“Usage started out a little slow, since I did not put it out until January,” said Wood. “After the weather got warmer and word spread, we’ve had a steady increase in visitors. It seems that most of the time young families with kids stop by, but I have seen college students take a look too.”

(Photo: Linda Watson and Chris Wood show off their solar powered library located near Fourth Avenue and Orchard.)

Wood and Watson took their project idea to a neighborhood association meeting where it was enthusiastically embraced by others.

“I think it is an important project because it fosters reading and bringing about a sense of neighborhood,” said Wood. “I wanted to improve the sense of neighborhood in our area.”

“This library belongs to everyone,” added Watson. “Not just our family.”

James and Nancy Beckstrom were two of the neighbors fascinated by the idea.

“This is Stillwater,” said Nancy. “We should be the most literate town in Oklahoma. There is no reason for anyone in this town not to have a book. Making sure that everyone can read is all of our responsibility, and this LFL is one way we can help.”

Nancy and James Beckstrom jpgNancy and her husband James contacted Jim Scott in the City of Stillwater’s Park and Recreation department to find out if a LFL could be placed in Ingham Park, a high traffic area in the neighborhood. Once Scott gave them the go-ahead, the Beckstroms began working on a design.

“We were concerned that the sharp edges of many designs would be dangerous in a park,” said James. “So we started trying to think of rounder options and came up with the idea to place the library in a tree stump.”

(Photo: Nancy and James Beckstrom place books in the Ingham Park little free library.)

With the idea in place, several book-friendly business people stepped up to turn the idea into a library. Nate Priest with Nate’s Tree Service donated the giant tree stump used to house the LFL. He also cut the hole for the tiny building and delivered the stump to Ingham Park.

United Rentals then gave the Beckstroms a steep discount on mechanical equipment to move the giant stump into place.

“After we got the stump into place, we set it with rebar and 15 bags of concrete,” said James. “It won’t be going anywhere for a long time.”

The result was magical. The Ingham Park LFL is right in the middle of the stump with two doors on either side of the stump for easy access to the books.

“We wanted a Little Free Library with character,” said Nancy. “And what could be better than a design that also brought to mind the Magic Treehouse books.”

But is anyone borrowing the books?

“We see college students, kids, parents with strollers and joggers all stopping at the LFL to pick up a book,” said Nancy. “The best thing I’ve seen is parents who used to sit and use their smartphones while their kids played are now sitting next to their children reading together.”

Cameron and Lauren KernsAnd what do the neighborhood kids think?

“At first I thought it looked weird because it has a bunch of windows and it’s an old dead tree,” said four year old LFL user, Lauren Kerns, who stopped by the library to return a book. “But what I like most is it has a bunch of books.”

The Beckstroms and Wood-Watson families both agree that children’s books have been the most popular with LFL readers, and that their partnership with the Stillwater Public Library played an important part in keeping the libraries stocked.

“The public library was a great source of books, especially after the first round of removals when we were getting down to just a handful of books,” said Wood. “Now after the donations by the public library, people are starting to get a hang of the ‘Take a Book, Return a Book’ concept. It is stuffed with a variety of books.”

The library's help has turned into an official partnership.

“When we learned about the new LFLs, we knew that the library wanted to be a part of their efforts,” said Reynolds. “Each of the LFLs has become a ‘Stillwater Public Library Book Branch.’ We provide donated books from the Friends of the Library when we can and in return, they put bookmarks in the books with information about library services.”

Community members interested in constructing their own LFLs, should visit the LFL site at http://littlefreelibrary.org. Registering a LFL with the site requires a $35 fee. For information about the Stillwater LFLs or to partner on an LFL with the library, visit http://library.stillwater.org/LittleFreeLibraries.php.

The Stillwater Public Library is located at 1107 S. Duck St.(the corner of Duck and 12th Ave.). For more information, contact the Stillwater Public Library by phone at (405) 372-3633 or by e-mail at askalibrarian@stillwater.org or visit the web site at library.stillwater.org.