Western couple teams up to provide free books to community

Published Jun 24, 2018 at 9:00am

WESTERNVILLE — The Western Town Library Board of Trustees recently dedicated its Little Free Library that the group worked on as a project designed to bring books closer to the community.

Library Board President Carole Torok explained that the box is set up behind the Methodist Church of North Western and provides anyone the opportunity to take a book, or leave one.

The project was suggested by Western Town Library Director Mary Jo Miller. The library board’s vision was brought to life by Lee Northrup, long-time resident of North Western and husband to library board trustee, Carol Northrup.

The husband-and-wife team built, painted and set up the Little Free Library. The church membership and their pastor, The Rev. Joan Dunn, joined in on the project to promote reading and a sense of community in the small town. Danette Giesse headed up the committee that provided refreshments after the recent dedication ceremony.

“At one of our board meetings, Mary Jo Miller, our librarian, shared the story of Little Free Libraries that have been built and placed in villages and towns all over the world. She told us all about the Little Free Libraries website that has information on how to buy, design, register and steward these libraries,” Northrup said. “The site also has an interactive world-wide map of Little Free Libraries. The board discussed it and decided that we should place one in North Western.”

Next came discussions on the Little Free Library’s logistics. Northrup said board members talked about who should build the “little library” and where it should go. Miller explained that books were donated to the library on a regular basis, so it would always have an inventory.

“My husband Lee and I have lived in North Western for over 50 years. Our home is a few miles from our main library,” said Northrup. “I went on the original Little Library website and then found many sites where people had made their own libraries. So I asked Lee if we could build and donate a Little Free Library to our library for North Western’s use.”

“At first he rolled his eyes and said he had enough projects going,” she laughed. “He’s a man of many talents. He is into rebuilding antique tractors, electrical/plumbing projects for friends, we have an over 100-year-old house that requires time, he runs a part-time barber business, does woodworking, hunts, and the list goes on. But in the end, he thought it would be beneficial to our town.”

With the library board’s approval, Northrup said she met with North Western Methodist Church’s Pastor Dunn and congregation to ask them about putting the Little Free Library on church property. And they agreed to the plan.

Lee built the 16-inch, by 25-inch, by 24-inch “box,” and painted it red with a black roof to make it look like a book binding, Northrup said.

“He made a post and cemented it in the ground in the church’s parking lot,” she explained. “This location will give adults and children plenty of room to peruse books in the library without having to worry about the road traffic.”

The history of the Little Free Libraries started back in 2009, when Todd Bol of Hudson, Wis. built a model of a one-room schoolhouse. It was a tribute to his mother, who was a teacher who loved to read. He filled it with books and put it on a post in his front yard. This caught the attention of University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Rick Brooks, who paired up with Bol to organize the effort into an international phenomenon. 

By 2010, the name Little Free Library was established and the purpose of these library book exchanges became clear: to share good books and bring communities together. Little Free Libraries have continued to grow by leaps and bounds every year.

By 2017, more than 60,000 Little Free Libraries were registered in all U.S., and in over 80 countries world-wide. Each year, nearly 10 million books are shared in Little Free Libraries. To learn more, visit littlefreelibrary.org.

Miller said the main goal for the county’s summer reading program is to encourage reading from birth on and that the Little Free Library will help in that effort.

“I was once told that from pre-kindergarten through second grade you learn to read, and from third grade on, you read to learn. So it’s important to have a good base,” she said.

The library director said she was happy and encouraged to see the positive response to the Little Free Library so far. It’s located where school buses turn around so it’s visible to several school children. And, Miller said she hopes the elderly residing in the area, who cannot make it down to the library, can take advantage of it as well. Soon DVDs will also be added to the book collection available.

“I am so happy with everyone in the community who was involved in this — the board, the board of the church and people living in the surrounding areas — coming together so no one feels left out,” she said. “When I take my dogs out for a walk, it’s become a routine to go check the box, and I’ve seen them (the books) moved around and looked at. I hope word spreads fast and it really takes off over the summer.”

Northrup said she is grateful that the little library helps spread the love for reading.

“I love the idea of the Little Free Library,” Northrup said. “Anything that inspires people to read, especially in our hometown, is awesome. I am a life-time bookworm and proud of it. I love books and avidly read books and magazines on all subjects. Some of my best childhood memories are of my grandma and grandpa reading to me.”

“This library offers everyone access to free books and an opportunity to journey into other worlds,” she said. “At first no one seemed interested in our library, but slowly and surely interest has grown. The neighbors have been observing the people come around. I’ve been getting phone calls with very positive responses, and many people want to donate books for it. Now that I know what I’m looking for, I have seen other Little Free Libraries in Oneida County, and I am so thankful we have a librarian to bring us this amazing idea and a Board of Trustees to implement it.”