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Little library trend catches on

More people creating book exchanges in Tosa

June 27, 2012

Heather Deaton enjoyed the book "Memoirs of a Geisha," but since it's a few years old and has been a popular book club choice, she wasn't sure if there would be a lot of interest in the novel.

She took a chance and put it in the cabinet in her front yard and quickly it disappeared.

Deaton counts among a growing number of Wauwatosa property owners - at least eight so far - getting involved in the Little Free Library movement. They build or buy a ready-made small book depository, fill it with reading materials and wait for neighbors to take or donate items.

"We encourage people to stop and look, take a book now or come back later and come back often," said Deaton of the library on her property in the 2500 block of Lefeber Avenue.

Worth the effort

At first the idea of constantly having people stopping by her property gave her pause, and she worried the library stand would be a target for vandals. Instead, she has found it serves as a conversation starter and she believes "it supports and drives literacy."

Her entire family has gotten involved. Husband Eric Oquist put the book "Life of Pi" in the library at 10 p.m. only to find it gone and three new books in its place. Children Colin and Elliot have gone through their shelves and have found it a little easier to give up some of their favorite titles when they find a "Captain Underpants" book has made its way into the library.

Part of the desire to have the library is selfish, Deaton admits. She's picked up books she may not have read if they hadn't been placed in front of her.

Deaton has seen books leave and resurface only to go out again. However, there's no requirement for people to return books to little libraries.

Reading goes social

Pat Krolikowski, who started one with husband Gary on the corner of their property in the 3300 block of North Knoll Terrace, prefers people take the books and pass them on to others.

"It's supposed to be a pay-it-forward type of library system," she said. "It's a great way of sharing and for people to get together to talk."

She goes one step further and suggests people write their names in the books they read and leave notes describing why they liked the book or a message they took away from the pages. That makes reading more social, she said.

The Krolikowskis landscaped the area around the little library and added a bench so people could stop and read without feeling intrusive.

"It's far enough away from our house that they feel they have some privacy," Pat said. "I just wanted to create a cute little nook for the neighborhood."

No competition for big library

Mary Murphy, director of the Wauwatosa Public Library, supports the mini-library trend.

"There's a sense of community that comes up around them," she said. "People stop and browse and chat for awhile."

Wauwatosa's city library is the busiest in the Milwaukee County Federated Library System, and Murphy said she's not worried that an increasing number of little libraries will negatively impact business.

"They're intentionally small, targeting the immediate neighborhood," Murphy said. "I support anything that gets people reading or talking about books."

Besides, the city library offers more, including Internet connectivity, propriety databases, experienced research staff and children's programming, among other services, she said.

Bringing neighbors together

Bob Young calls the Wauwatosa Public Library "the mothership" with his family visiting several times per month. He doesn't see his little library as competition.

"Our neighbors (in the 2500 block of) 80th Street are generous, look out for each other and encourage each other on a daily basis," he said. "The little library just gives them one more little way to continue to be the great neighbors they already are."

It would be an understatement to say the neighbors have embraced Young's lending stand, which got its start in early April. One neighbor put the first three books in before he even got the roof on. A young couple filled it with eight books shortly afterward. With the nice weather, he's put out a milk crate to expand beyond what will fit in the library.

"The neighbors have put every genre in our little library," Young said. "On a given day, you might not find your favorite read but if you stop by regularly, I believe you will find what you are looking for."

At a glance

The Little Free Libraries movement was started by Wisconsinites Tod Bol and Rick Brooks in 2010 to promote "literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide; to build a sense of community as we share skills, creativity and wisdom across generations; and to build more than 2,510 libraries around the world - more than Andrew Carnegie." Directions on how to build a little library and a registry can be found at LittleFreeLibrary.org .

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