89.1 WEMU

Hidden In Plain Sight: Little Free Libraries Around Washtenaw County

Feb 19, 2018

Credit Lisa Barry

Ever notice something that looks like a standalone mailbox located in front of a business or community organizations around town?  Ever wondered what's inside?

89.1 WEMU'S Lisa Barry explains they're mini neighborhood book exchanges, hidden in plain sight around Washtenaw County.

Intended to build community, spark creativity, and inspire readers there are more than a thousand neighborhood book exchanges in Michigan, including Washtenaw County.

The idea came from Tod Bol of Wisconsin, who built a little free library behind his house in 2009 to honor the legacy of his mother, who had just passed away, by giving away books.

Kim Lazarz opens the little library.
Credit Lisa Barry

About a year later, while holding a garage sale, several of the customers saw it and thought it was a great idea, and Bol knew he was on to something.  So, he built 30 more, and now, nine years later, there are over 75,000 in 90 countries.

Ypsilanti Fire Chief Max Anthouard.
Credit Lisa Barry

Each little library has its own steward, and in Ypsilanti, Kim Lazarz oversees three, all within a few miles of each other off Michigan Avenue.

The Little Library in front of the Ypsilanti Fire Station.
Credit Lisa Barry

One of those locations is out in front of the Ypsilanti fire station.  Ypsilanti Fire Chief Max Anthouard says they were pleased to allow one to be built in front of the fire department building.

Social Worker Darlene Holliday.
Credit Lisa Barry

The sentiment behind the Little Free Library is "take a book, share a book," and the goal is to inspire readers and strengthen communities.

The Little Library at Sauk Trail low income housing complex in Ypsilanti (on the left).
Credit Lisa Barry

Darlene Holliday is a social worker at Sauk Trail low income housing in Ypsilanti, where one of the libraries is located.  She says it's a tremendous addition for residents there.  She sees children taking and reading books from the little free library on property frequently.

Anyone can create one and then register it with the little free library non-profit organization started by Bol in 2012.

The Little Library at Sauk Trail.
Credit Lisa Barry

Bol says kindness is the only “rule” governing how the little libraries are built or designed.

Lazarz says reading is so important to today’s youth and encourages more free little libraries be built around Washtenaw County.

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— Lisa Barry is the host of All Things Considered on WEMU. You can contact Lisa at 734.487.3363, on Twitter @LisaWEMU, or email her at lbarryma@emich.edu