Along the sidewalks of cities and towns, there is an increasing number of what, at first glance, appear to be supersized mailboxes.
However, these creatively constructed boxes are actually the hubs of an international book-exchange program that started 10 years ago in Wisconsin.
Todd H. Bol built the first Little Free Library in 2009 in Hudson, Wis., to honor his mother, and, with the help of his friend Rick Brooks of Madison, the idea became a nonprofit organization in 2012. Today there are more than 80,000 registered libraries in 90 countries.
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Little Free Libraries operate on a simple system of honesty and reciprocation. If a book is taken, it’s expected that one is placed in the library to replace it. This encourages an ever-changing lineup, which can include children’s books, novels and nonfiction. Some locations even broaden their assortment to offer toys and puzzles.
The La Crosse Public Library sees these book-exchanges as vital to boosting literacy.
Joe Hammes, who works in public relations at the library, says Little Free Libraries are important to boost the sense of community in the surrounding neighborhoods — including his own. The La Crosse Public Library has donated children’s books to help fill the Little Free Library at the La Crosse Fire Department.
St. Paul’s Lutheran Church and School in Onalaska, the site of one of the many Little Free Library locations in the La Crosse area, has been an enormous success, said Linnette Fehr, a second-grade teacher at the school. Placing it next to the school’s playground has made it a destination for students, but neighbors also have taken advantage of the book-exchange program, too, Fehr said.
Zack Peterson designed and built the first library while attending St. Paul’s, but it was damaged in a storm and had to be replaced. Former student Hunter Kasten, who attends Luther High School in Onalaska, built the one that’s in use today.