Do-it-yourself library movement comes to Southwest Florida
Heidi Moore-Hart said she and her husband, Chris Hart, were driving one day in a neighborhood that borders the river in Cape Coral when something that looked like a cross between a bathroom medicine cabinet and a dollhouse, mounted outside on posts, caught their attention.
“We saw two people standing in front of this structure, and we were fascinated,” she said. “We turned around to go look, and it was a Little Free Library. We thought, ‘How cool is that?’”
The couple, who are two-thirds of the ownership team of Cape Coral Brewing Company, looked up the nonprofit Wisconsin organization that promotes literacy through these neighborhood book exchanges and noted the idea as something they wanted to add to their brewery once they opened for business.
As of September 2015, there are more than 32,000 registered Little Free Libraries in all 50 states and over 70 countries. Libraries may be found by using a map search on the organization’s website.
Some little free libraries are in the front yards of private homes, some are in parks and others are in front of businesses, such as the one in front of the boutique Victoria’s Place on Bonita Beach Road in Bonita Springs.
“I heard about Little Free Libraries from a girlfriend from Canada,” said Victoria Green, owner of the boutique, “and she suggested I put one in front of the store. I looked into it and found out it was an organization. Our shop is so unique and different we thought it would be an asset to have something different out front and that we’d be an asset to Little Free Libraries.
“We painted ours to look like our building and put it by our front entrance,” said Green. “You wouldn’t believe the draw it has been. People go online to find these libraries, and they find our store through it.”
Little Free Libraries started in 2009 as a single library. Todd Bol of Hudson, Wis., built a model of a one-room schoolhouse, installed it in his front yard and filled it with books in memory of his mother, a schoolteacher who had loved reading. Neighbors and friends responded enthusiastically, so he built several more of the models and gave them away.
Rick Brooks, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, became Bol’s partner in promoting the LFL idea as a social enterprise to encourage reading and literacy. The pair set the goal of creating 2,510 of the libraries, one more free library than was built by nineteenth-century industrialist Andrew Carnegie.
Popular with men
Green said the Little Free Library has proven especially popular with men, who will grab a book and sit in the store’s outdoor seating area to read while their wives shop. She said it has also proven a conversation starter among the men as they chat about the books or examine the construction of the library box.
“I think it’s perfect for my shop because my shop isn’t all about money,” Green said. “It’s also about giving. I have a complimentary coffee bar, so what a lovely combo — have a free book and a coffee.”
In addition to the Little Free Library in Bonita Springs, there is one in Lehigh Acres that was started by a Girl Scout troop, one in St. James City, and a couple in Fort Myers, but Cape Coral is the nexus of the movement locally with seven of the free book exchanges.
Recently, the Harts obtained two ready-made library boxes from the nonprofit’s website and recruited two students to serve as volunteer stewards for the brewery’s libraries. Michelle Heckey, a fifth grader at Oasis Elementary School and niece of the brewery’s third co-owner, Peter Kessack, has volunteered to manage the children’s library collection.
Moore-Hart’s son John Pellett, who is a senior at Oasis High School, has volunteered to manage the adult’s library collection. The two LFL boxes will be mounted on the wall by the front door so that they are accessible 24 hours a day for anyone who wishes to take or leave a book. The ribbon-cutting ceremony for the libraries will take place on Saturday, Dec. 19. The brewery is running a book-donation drive through Friday, Dec. 18. Moore-Hart said the brewery is serving a complimentary house pint to anyone who makes a book donation during the drive.
The first library in Cape Coral was the one the Harts drove past in the Cornwallis neighborhood. Ann Vaughn, treasurer of the neighborhood’s association, said she promoted the idea of setting up one of the lending libraries after hearing about them from a snowbird resident from Wisconsin.
“When we first started researching it in 2012, there weren’t any in this area,” Vaughn said. “The closest one was Orlando. We used to be the only one in the area, but I noticed that Rotary Park has one now. I’m glad they’re doing it. We like to encourage people to read. We don’t have enough people who read now.”
The main issue Vaughn said the neighborhood association has experienced in maintaining the library is keeping enough children’s books in stock, since children tend to want to keep their books once they get them. She said that, since she volunteers with Kiwanis, she just purchases extra children’s books at the Kiwanis Thrift Store.
“I’m glad to buy more books to replace the children’s books because I’m happy that they want to read,” Vaughn said.
Honey Phillips, an environmental recreation specialist with Rotary Park serves as the steward for the Cape Coral Parks’ four Little Free Libraries. She echoed Vaughn’s comments about the challenge of keeping children’s books in stock. She maintains the libraries at Rotary Park and Four Freedoms Park as well as the newly installed libraries at Four Mile Cove Ecological Preserve and Sirenia Vista Park. The park libraries were paid for by a grant from the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program, so she includes some environmentally related books in each collection.
“The idea is to promote literacy and reading in our parks,” Phillips said. “I like to go outside and see people reading on a park bench. We get that here a lot (at Rotary Park). We have people who come here to read and relax. I even had a guy who would come out on the nature trails and tie his hammock up in a tree by the water to read his book.”
Connect with this writer: @LauraTichySmith (Twitter)
To learn more
What: Little Free Libraries
Location map: littlefreelibrary.org
If you go
Little Free Library events at Cape Coral Brewing Company
Address: 829 Miramar St, Cape Coral
Info: capecoralbrewing.com; facebook.com/capecoralbrewingcompany
What: Book drive for new Little Free Libraries
When: Through Friday, Dec. 18
Bonus: Free pint of beer for making a donation
What: Ribbon cutting for new Little Free Libraries
When: Saturday, Dec. 19 (check Facebook for time)
Bonus: Free root beer for children in attendance