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Little Free Libraries Encourage Reading and Build Community

About 90,000 little free libraries have popped up in neighborhoods nationwide and worldwide — in about 90 countries — since the first one was built in Wisconsin in May of 2009.

Now, a decade later, Santa Clara has 11 registered with the Little Free Library founding organization. Sunnyvale has 33. Topping local cities, San Jose has more than 100.

In Santa Clara, Sisir Kudua’s next door neighbor has a little free library box atop a wood post in the front yard. It looks like an oversized, white bird house with a glass front door. Books are inside, and “Read and Return” is written on one side of it.

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“It’s a great idea. It encourages reading for the neighborhood. It encourages people to stop, take a break, and have a look,” said Kudua in front of his house one afternoon. “You hear about bad things, but this is something nice, not a bad story.”

David Maskell, a neighbor who lives around the corner, was pushing his granddaughter, seven-month-old Lucy, in a baby carriage. He stopped at the free library. He checks for children’s books when his three grandkids visit.

“It’s a great idea. It allows people to share books,” said Maskell. “It’s very neighborly.”

In a different Santa Clara neighborhood, Leroy Kromm was out in his front yard. His wife, Nancy Kromm, added a little free library to a their yard a year ago.

“We love our neighborhood and want to encourage readers of all ages to connect with books!” wrote Nancy Kromm on the Little Free Library map page (littlefreelibrary.org/ourmap/) showing where the libraries are located.

“Our theme is ‘imagination’ and our library has blue sky and clouds that resemble animal shapes, especially if your imagination is active!” wrote Nancy Kromm.

Leroy Kromm says that the neighbors love the library, which has a solar light on the top for evening viewing and a box beside it that holds additional books.

“It gets a lot of traffic. Kids go by to and from school. We have some regulars who help stock it and take from it,” said Leroy Kromm, adding that fiction stories are the most popular.

“It’s a great conversation piece when neighbors go by,” said Leroy Kromm. “I like it because of the community it creates. It’s in and for the community, for our neighborhood, so we can connect that way. We need to stick together as a community.”

The late founder of the nonprofit Little Free Library organization is Wisconsin native Todd H. Bol. As a tribute to his mother, a teacher who loved to read, he built a model of a one-room schoolhouse, put it on a post in his front yard and filled it with books. Bol’s idea caught on.

In 2013, the Little Free Library organization received the Innovations in Reading Prize from the National Book Foundation. In 2015, it was awarded a Library of Congress Literacy Award.

In the early 1900s, Scottish-American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie was one of the first to create free public libraries. He funded more than 2,500 public and university libraries in the English-speaking world.

The last Carnegie library in Santa Clara County that is still operating in the East San Jose Carnegie Branch Library, 1102 E. Santa Clara St.  Built in 1907, it is on the National Register of Historic Places.

“I really believe in a Little Free Library on every block and a book in every hand. I believe people can fix their neighborhoods, fix their communities, develop systems of sharing, learn from each other and see that they have a better place on this planet to live,” said Bol before his death in 2018.

Visit the Little Free Library website to locate a library or get information about setting up your own: littlefreelibrary.org.

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