2012-09-21 / Front Page

Little Free Library a big idea in area neighborhood

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer


Julie Falatko built her Little Free Library on Reynolds Road in South Portland this August with the help of her family. Falatko’s Little Free Library is the seventh in Maine. Founder Todd Bol says there are more than 3,000 around the world. (Jack Flagler photo) Julie Falatko built her Little Free Library on Reynolds Road in South Portland this August with the help of her family. Falatko’s Little Free Library is the seventh in Maine. Founder Todd Bol says there are more than 3,000 around the world. (Jack Flagler photo) SOUTH PORTLAND — To describe the way the phenomenon of Little Free Libraries has taken off, founder Todd Bol, predictably, uses an example from a book.

“We put a little oil in the tin man and it started to dance,” Bol said of the project he started with fellow Wisconsin native Rick Brooks in 2009.

The metaphor is, of course, from L. Frank Baum’s book “The Wizard of Oz.” In the same way that Dorothy puts oil in the tin man to animate him, Bol said his small action of building a library in his hometown of Hudson, Wis. started an international movement all around the world fueled by individual communities.


Falatko said she expected the Little Free Library to be a weekend project for her family, but she said, “We got a little nuts.” Here her son Henry, 9, hammers a nail into the roof. (Courtesy photo) Falatko said she expected the Little Free Library to be a weekend project for her family, but she said, “We got a little nuts.” Here her son Henry, 9, hammers a nail into the roof. (Courtesy photo) Now, Little Free Libraries have come to South Portland. Julie Falatko built the city’s first Little Free Library in August in front of her home on Reynolds Street, a dead end road off Broadway she said receives heavy foot traffic from children and dog walkers.

Falatko, who received a Master of Science in Library Studies in 2010, worked on build- ing her Little Free Library with her husband and four children for most of a month. The small structure, roughly the size of a bird house, has a glass door, a light based on a timer so it will catch the eye of pedestrians at night, and an angled, shingled roof so the books will stay dry in rain and snow.

“I totally thought it was going to be a weekend project,” Falatko said, but her family got a little carried away.

“We drew it up and then did it as a total family project; we got everybody working on the design. We got a little nuts, you definitely don’t have to make it look as fancy,” Falatko said.

There are also pre-made Little Free Library’s that are available to ship through the company’s website. If someone wants to build their own, they have to request a sign and number (Falatko’s is mounted above the door), then send in a $25 registration fee, at which point their structure will be added to the worldwide map.

The books inside South Portland’s first Little Free Library include recent bestsellers such as Khaled Hosseini’s “The Kite Runner” and Chad Harbach’s “The Art of Fielding,” as well as children’s books. Falatko’s children especially enjoyed “Open House for Butterflies” by Ruth Krauss.

There are no due dates for any of the books, nor is there a responsibility to donate a book in order to take one. Falatko was confident her family had plenty of books to restock the shelf of her library if the selection dwindled, but that hasn’t been the case.

Falatko said in the first day the library was up, the number of books was about the same, but about 75 percent of the titles were different. Now, she said there are significantly more books inside than there were to begin with. Yet through the first few weeks, the only original book that hasn’t been picked up is George Orwell’s 1945 classic “Animal Farm.”

Falatko placed cards inside each book cover that say “Little Free Library,” but where the due date should be, she has written “whenever.” On the binding, where the classification number usually would be, the book label reads, “Give a book, take a book.”

Bol built the first Little Free Library in Hudson, a town of roughly 12,000, to resemble a one-room schoolhouse, and he noticed the impact on the community immediately.

“The very first day I built one, we had a garage sale and I noticed people coming up to it,” Bol said. “You know the way folks will move to a puppy? People, men, women, kids, old guys, the all reacted the same way.”

Soon after, Bol built his Little Free Library and he started a website with Brooks. Then Wisconsin Public Radio got wind of the project. Then it was National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered,” the New York Times, Huffington Post and the “Today Show.”

Now, Bol said there are more than 3,000 Little Free Libraries across the U.S., Ghana, the Netherlands, Romania, Germany and various other countries all over the world, and people from all over tell him their communities have reacted the same way his did.

“We continually get people to tell us that they met more people in a week then they had in 20 years,” Bol said.

Falatko’s Little Free Library is one of seven in Maine. They have also sprung up in Cape Elizabeth, Saco, Falmouth, Bangor, Bradley and St. George. Falatko said she already knows all her neighbors, but the Little Free Library has allowed her family to share their love of books, and she’s been able to teach her children about the importance of giving back to the community.

There are a few signature moments that already stand out in Falatko’s mind even though her Little Free Library has only been up for about a month. She said one morning, around 8 a.m., a boy came sprinting down the street out of breath. He wanted to make sure no one had taken a book he had his eye on the night before.

Bol said there are countless stories he’s heard from around the country about communities building around Little Free Libraries. In Milwaukee, he said, a couple that had lost their son to suicide donated 29 Little Free Libraries on what would have been their son’s 29th birthday. Community art groups in the city stepped up to decorate the donated libraries. Recently, a Boy Scout troop from St. Paul, Minn. donated three Little Free Libraries to New Orleans after Hurricane Ivan.

Falatko said she has a goal to get a few more Little Free Libraries built on her block in South Portland, and she has a friend on the Greenbelt who has agreed to build one. Bol, meanwhile, wants to put a Little Free Library into every small town in America without a public library. Lofty ambitions, but with 3,000 libraries and counting from Ghana to South Portland, the phenomenon doesn’t seem to be slowing down.

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