It’s 3:10 on 67th Street, and Prairie Elementary students have been released for the weekend. Three blonde children, two girls and a smaller boy, come racing down the sidewalk. They cross the street and run straight to house number 4317.
The object drawing their attention is perched on a wooden post next to a wrought-iron bench and pots of red begonias and yellow mums. It looks almost like an over-sized birdhouse; a wooden hutch with a swinging glass door on the front and letters on the roof that spell out “Little Free Library.” Inside are the books.
The boy, Ike, opens the door and peers at each title. “Do Like A Duck Does.” “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” “A Treasury of Alphabets.” “ Little Women.” “Water for Elephants.”
No Geronimo Stilton books today. Ike shuts the door carefully. Maybe better luck next time.
Joining the crowd in the walk home for school is Jennifer Ecklund-Johnson and her two daughters, third-grader Violet and kindergartener Hazel. Jennifer is a Prairie mom, a freelance writer and the owner of the Little Free Library.
Jennifer’s library is just one of many. Her library is a charter of the international “Little Free Library” organization, a non-profit organization started in 2007 in Madison, Wisconsin. There are 11 other libraries in the state of Kansas and four in the SMSD area alone.
“The main goal [of the library] is to make a fun way for our community to share books and promote literacy and bond over reading,” Jennifer says. “It’s great to see people using it already, and having so much fun with it.”
Jennifer was inspired to start a Little Free Library over a year ago, when her mom introduced her to the idea. Busy with work and school, Jennifer put off purchasing a library for several months before asking family friend and carpenter Craig Johnson to put one together for her. Although the Little Free Library website advertised libraries with intricate, painted designs of flowers, animals and books, Jennifer decided to save time and stick with the classic, wood design.
After spending a week building, Johnson shipped the library and Jennifer put it up in her yard, adding a bench and flowers in the hopes of attracting even more readers. She bought a plaque from the Little Free Library organization for $25, then set out to find books to fill the library. She put out duplicates of her daughters’ books and selections from Goodwill and Half Price Bookstore, then sat back and waited to see how the community would react.
“We weren’t sure what was going to happen,” Jennifer says. “We just put it out there and then we were amazed, starting at day one people were already taking books and putting more in.”
From there, activity continued to bustle around the library. Books disappeared from the library and would return several days later, along with companions from community members’ shelves at home. Parents and children stop and sit on the bench, poring over [media-credit id=653 align=”alignright” width=”300″][/media-credit]books and seeing which they want to take home for a few days.
“I just put out the bench for looks at first,” Jennifer says. “I was so surprised when I looked out and saw people sitting there, reading with their kids or figuring out which book they wanted.”
Every night, Hazel and Violet take out all of the new books from throughout the day and sit on their couch. Once Jennifer helps them to finish all of the days’ reads, the family returns all of the books to their library for the rest of the neighborhood to enjoy.
Jennifer says that her girls have enjoyed the new library immensely, and she often has to shoo them away from the window, where they sit and watch people visiting the library.
“I like it because it feels good to share a book,” Hazel says.
From here, Jennifer believes that the Little Free Library can only grow. She’s planning more trips with her girls to Goodwill and Half Price Books, hoping to broaden the range of books in her library even further.
“We have so many kids’ books and all of the kids are using [the Library] so well,” Jennifer says. “But I want it to be something everyone can use, so I’m trying to get stuff in there for parents, for kids from the high school… just something for everyone.”
To hear more about the library from Mrs. Johnson, listen here:
Here is an sound byte with Mrs. Johnson talking about reading: