Tucked away between two homes on South Maple Street in Elyria, a stone’s throw from a community garden, sits a library.
It’s smaller than a single bookcase and bigger than a breadbox. But inside what looks like an oversized birdhouse, complete with shingles, holds the same literary adventures as a traditional library. Small hands can still learn about trains, cute little dogs and friends who skip through meadows, but much closer to their homes.
It’s a Little Free Library — the first in Lorain County — but the concept of placing tiny boxes full of free books in neighborhoods to promote literacy and the love of reading without the constraints of a public library is poised to grow.
The Stocker Foundation, with the Lorain County Educational Service Center serving as the fiscal agent, is funding a countywide literacy program that will see the installation of upwards of 30 Little Free Libraries.
In recent years, the foundation has streamlined its philanthropic efforts to focus on one key area — the education of area youth, particularly literacy among younger children.
In that regard, the Little Free Libraries could be its most public effort toward that mission.
“This project has taken on a life of its own, and most importantly, the family is excited about the impact this could have in the community,” said Patricia O’Brien, executive director. “This summer, I read about the Little Free Library movement in other parts of the state and country and knew it would be perfect for Lorain County. The concept is wonderful. Children take a book, leave a book or don’t. The book is theirs for as long as they want it.”
A $30,000 grant is being used to get the program started and students in the carpentry program at the Lorain County Joint Vocational School are constructing the libraries. Students in the school’s National Technical Honor Society will install the libraries at various county locations.
At least seven more — beyond the one on South Maple and a second one at the Boys & Girls Club of Lorain County, both of which the club installed on its own — hopefully will be set up before the ground freezes. The rest will be set up throughout Lorain County come spring.
“We would like to see Little Free Libraries all over the county and so far have some really great ideas for locations in mind as well as people who have stepped up to be stewards — kind of caregivers of each library,” said Melanie Wilson, the foundation’s grants and office manager. “And the JVS students have really taken ownership of constructing each library. They are all so different. One is a barn, another has a nautical theme and one has an Ohio State University theme.”
To the naysayers who think it’s a bad idea to place unmanned boxes of free books in neighborhoods with the hopes children will take a book or leave a book without the prompting from a librarian, O’Brien said it is more than possible.
“When people realize what it is and the impact in the community, they will take ownership of them,” she said.
Bobby Taylor, director of operations for the Boys & Girls Club, said he has seen how children respond to the small libraries.
“We have found a lot of usage, especially from the one on South Maple,” he said. “We have only had one case of minor vandalism, which involved a juice box. The books are high quality and diverse.”
The Boys and Girls Club may have started the library project first, but it has since joined the Stocker Foundation initiative, which will give them it a more concrete connection to the national movement.
But the libraries are not just fun projects and free books. Educators across the county know they are up against a clock to get every child reading on grade level as soon as possible. The new state mandate known as the Third Grade Guarantee — a rigorous literacy evaluation process that basically could force districts to hold students back if they are not reading on level by third grade — has school districts and childhood educations advocates thinking outside the box when it comes to boosting literacy.
“Children are learning in new and exciting way that is much different than their parents,” O’Brien said.
HELP TEND A LITTLE LIBRARY
The Lorain County Little Free Library Project is in need of 15 additional locations and stewards (library caretakers) in these communities:
- Avon Lake
- North Ridgeville
- South Amherst
- southern Lorain County townships.