Renovations are the sign of a new birth. Sometimes they give birth to unexpected things. In 2009, Todd Bol of Wisconsin was renovating his garage when he ripped off the door and paused before discarding because he truly liked the wood. He decided to build a small box to post outside his home with books for passersby as a tribute to his mother, who had been a schoolteacher.
People were intrigued and when he had his garage sale, a brilliant idea dawned on him. “I put up my library and noticed my neighbors talking to it like it was a little puppy,” Bol said in a 2013 interview with The Washington Post. “And I realized there was some kind of magic about it.”
Assisted by Henry Miller, an Amish craftsman, Mr. Bol began building these mini-libraries and started the nonprofit organization, Little Free Library, to provide a place where people could purchase or get instructions on how to build these libraries for their own neighborhoods.
The idea quickly took off.
As many people from Rockaway Beach and surrounding areas remember, Hurricane Sandy devastated many areas. We suffered deaths, massive destruction, and privation. I, myself, remember being stunned as my basement windows burst, shooting forth gushes of sea water as in the movie Titanic. Following Sandy, we were stranded with no homes, food, hot water, with people desperate for gasoline to operate generators to pump out water if they were lucky enough to gain use of one. Walking around my ravaged neighborhood in a surreal state of shock, I felt like I was in the apocalyptic movie, Road Warrior. Titanic and Road Warrior are not movies one imagines being in until it happens.
A perhaps less life-threatening, but also sad result was that the public libraries in Rockaway and other areas were flooded and unusable. Having heard about the Little Free Libraries, I created two of them outside my home. In thanks to rocker Patti Smith, also a Rockaway resident, for all the spiritual help and organizational effort she dedicated to help rebuild Rockaway, “Stone by stone,” I dedicated the adult one to her, installing a plaque commemorating The Patti Smith Free Library, and I named the other one the Kids’ Rock-A-Book Library. I stocked them with books of my choice that I wanted to share, and my neighbors enthusiastically joined, once it became clear that they were not birdhouses.
The Rockaway Times was kind enough to do an article on them back in 2014 and it has since thrilled my heart to watch as people make use of the “Take A Book, And Leave A Book” concept of both, resulting in constantly changing inventory. My sweetest memory is seeing a little girl pull her grandfather by the hand, urging him to “Come, I’ll show you how it works!” opening the door and proudly taking a book out.
Soon, another Little Free Library appeared a few blocks away and my heart sang! I believe there are three now in Rockaway. Little Free Libraries are worldwide, thanks to Todd Bol, even stretching as far as the Yamal Peninsula in Siberia, for reindeer herders and their families.
When Todd Bol died recently, library stewards were asked to put a white and silver ribbon on their libraries in commemoration of this extraordinary man’s life. It was with great sadness that my daughter, Marlene, and I tied our ribbons on the libraries. While the world has lost a real life Book Angel, his spirit lives on in every Little Free Library in the world.
For more information about Little Free Libraries, or to start your own, go to www.littlefreelibrary.org.
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