Little Free Libraries are steadily growing in number across the United States and the world. The movement began in 2010 with its creator, Todd H. Bol, giving away 30 Little Free Libraries. Over the next few years, he watched them multiply. Today, they number over 50,000 registered locations, with a goal to reach 100,000 by the end of this year.
For those unfamiliar with the concept, the Little Free Library is a place where one can take a book or leave a book in a common neighborhood area. They come in many shapes and sizes, but the most common version is a small wooden box of books.
There are several little libraries scattered throughout neighborhoods in our area. Although the exteriors are different, the overall sense that each library steward is not only fostering a love for reading, but also cultivating a sense of social responsibility emanates from each carefully crafted box.
At Oak Grove Elementary, for example, a small green and blue library greets parents, students, and visitors near the entrance to the school. Fourth grade students designed, painted, and built three libraries as part of a Children’s Engineering/Project Based learning project in 2013-14. They chose this library for the school, and organized a book drive to stock it. In the years to come, they have pledged to continue to care for the location. From a young age, this encourages students to nurture their reading habit, seek out new books to read on a regular basis, and share their favorites with neighbors and friends.
Just as the students poured their creative spirit into this design, artists, craftsmen and women, designers, and architects are all expressing themselves through the new medium. Locally, Marijke and Steven Barber spent the better part of a cold winter making one. The beautiful painted library is located on 31st street. They completed it as the weather turned warm, and it has attracted visitors ever since. Like many of the others we visited throughout Roanoke, the façade almost echoes the exterior of their home.
On Wax Myrtle Drive, a small red and white library accents a family home with similar features. The library was built by a grandfather and grandson as a birthday present. When families love to read, and share that love with their neighborhood, it becomes a gift for everyone around them. These locations make for quirky and unique family road trips around the county, but also serve as an opportunity for local groups to promote civic engagement, and awareness about social and environmental issues. In fact, several of the locations we visited contained copies of the Constitution, left by a local political outreach group.
Of course, each location offers something for everyone, and not just in the form of literature. Our favorite stop was located at the trailhead of the Chisom Trial in the Roanoke County community of Laurel Woods. There is a picnic bench just beyond the little library, and it is an easy stop for hikers and explorers. “The library was established in memory of Charlene Lenox Denton (1942-2012),” steward, Brian Chisom, explains. “Charlene enjoyed outdoor activities: gardening, hiking, camping, and walking with friends. And, in many settings, she found ways to help others. The Little Free Library that bears her name is a testament to Charlene’s devotion to service and community.”
There are six newspaper boxes, donated by the Roanoke Times, interspersed throughout the map. The Roanoke Arts Commission hired artist Dan Kuehl to transform them by covering the exterior with familiar landmarks from the Roanoke region. Each box has a steward that is responsible for its upkeep.
Although every library is different, they serve as a direct reflection of our community’s growing dedication to the arts, literature, and service. If you are interested in exploring the locations with family and friends, or simply looking for a new book to take you on an adventure, visit www.littlefreelibrary.org.