By Dale Larabee | Larabee’s Lowdown
As you might have noticed, there are tiny, wooden boxes sprouting out of lawns around Uptown. These are various styles of “Little Free Libraries” (LFLs), and like us, they come in all sizes, shapes and colors.
These overgrown birdhouses won’t put Amazon out of the book business, but they sure are more neighborly. And the price is right. Each undersized house welcomes you to walk onto the owner’s lawn, open the tiny door and browse the reading materials inside. Their slogan, “take a book, leave a book.”
Most bear a small placard explaining that the LFL is registered with the National Registry founded 2009 in Wisconsin. Inside each LFL is a condensed mixture of books and magazines. I have browsed five in the Kensington-Talmadge area and have seen a variety of adult and children books as well as magazines. I saw nothing worth banning, although the Trustees of White Fish, Montana closed a LFL for fear of “inappropriate materials being available.” I think these tiny libraries are cool and community friendly — though not free of controversy besides porno. I learned this and more by talking to owners of these libraries.
Michael Lesniak built his after a friend gave him a set of plans and said, “You can build this.” In 2012, he did.
Soon after, Lesniak was on his roof, hidden by trees from the street, when a father and daughter walked up to his library. The 8-year-old girl was fascinated and wanted to look inside, but her father dutifully reminded her that the structure was on private property. He thought it was a dollhouse. That’s when she noticed Lesniak’s “open” sign. When her father insisted it was time to go, Lesniak settled the discussion with a booming voice from on high: “It’s a library; it’s open!”
Julie Braden’s LFL in Kensington appears similar to Lesniak’s from a distance, but its differences become obvious up close, as is the case with most. Each mirrors its owner’s personality. All those I saw had small windows through which to look inside and doors on the front. Braden is a strong advocate for registering the libraries with the national organization, because it uses the money it collects to help others.
Jim Baross’ LFL in Normal Heights is a bargain basement version. Jim uncovered a used kitchen cabinet stashed in his garage, decorated it, placed it near his sidewalk, seeded it with books and opened it for business. He said he’s been reading more and meeting more of his neighbors since then.
“It’s for my neighbors,” Baross said, explaining why he chose not to register his LFL on littlefreelibraries.org. “It costs $35, I think, and I won’t have anyone from New York borrowing books.”
My neighbor Sheila Jitler had hers built several weeks ago. Jitler’s rests on concrete blocks. Her mother owned the bookstore at 35th and Adams until she died in 1982 and the house she inherited in East Talmadge is jammed with books. She stocks her library with18 books and is amazed by how quickly the books turnover.
No reports of vandalism or “inappropriate materials” or upset neighbors. All the news was good. A tip to anyone interested: If you decide to build your library on your property, have at it. However, if you want to build on public land you must apply for a permit and pay fees.
Regardless whether you register or tangle with the City, watch the joy of discovery from those seeing a library for the first time. Soon it won’t take Lesniak’s god-like voice from on high to remind us, “it’s a library, it’s open.”