Reading Time: 3 minutes

Michael TaubeYou may have noticed some miniature libraries popping up in your community. Some of them have been placed next to storefronts, while others are strategically situated on a neighbours’ lawn.

This unique concept, the Little Free Library, has helped encourage more reading – and reduced the scourge of literacy – in our society.

The idea for these mini-libraries began with Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisc., who was reportedly inspired by earlier examples to teach and emphasize the power of reading. This includes Andrew Carnegie’s decision to finance the construction of 2,509 free public libraries between 1883 and 1929, and Lutie Stearns’s campaign to provide 1,500 Wisconsin locations with books (via traveling libraries) between 1895 and 1914.

According to the official website, Bol “built a model of a one room schoolhouse” in 2009 as a “tribute to his mother . . . a teacher who loved to read.” He put in some books, and set up the mini-library “on a post in his front yard.” People liked it, so he made a few more (all containing a sign, “FREE BOOKS”) and gave them away.

This led to a partnership with Rick Brooks of UW-Madison. The two men believed there were real “opportunities to achieve a variety of goals for the common good” with Bol’s do-it-yourself project. The Little Free Library was their brainchild, and its mission was “to promote literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide” and “build a sense of community as we share skills, creativity and wisdom across generations.”

And off to work they went.

The idea quickly caught on in the U.S. From one Little Free Library on a lonely bike path in Madison, Wisc., in 2010, there are now reportedly more than 36,000 around the world. You can either build your own library, or purchase unfinished models, accessories, and a one-of-a-kind “Simpsons Library” with original art on the website. For a one-time US$40 registration fee, you’re part of the club.

The Little Free Library has also made its way to Canada. Every province, and most territories, seem to have at least one. There are several in my neighborhood, containing hardcover books, softcover editions and magazines. A person can take out an item, keep it for as long as he or she likes, and return it – or another title – to any location.

I’ve always thought the Little Free Library was a great idea. As a parent, I wanted my son to enjoy reading (and he does). Most professional writers, regardless of political ideology, also care deeply about literacy.

The feeling goes much deeper than this, however.

Reading is an important life skill that we all need to have, and should want to have. It doesn’t matter whether a person’s interest leans more toward fiction or non-fiction. It’s the act of reading, and increasing your knowledge on a particular subject or idea, that is vitally important.

For children, a book opens a crucial doorway to great stories and adventures. It enables young minds to use their imagination and creativity as powerful learning tools. This should encourage them to read more – and learn more – on a daily basis.

As Carnegie once said, “A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never failing spring in the desert.” Hence, what could be a better way to help encourage the importance of living in a community than to take out a book, and share what you learned, with your friends and neighbours?

So, consider visiting a Little Free Library in your neighborhood. Or build one of your own, fill it with plenty of books, and create new memories for adults and children alike.

It’s not a suggestion you would naturally expect to come from a small “c” conservative. But if it encourages reading and stamps out literacy, I’m all for it.

Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and political commentator, was a speechwriter for former Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He holds a master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics.

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Little Free Library

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