The Coastal Star

Boca Raton: Little Free Libraries spread the love of reading

Isis and William O’Brien celebrate the grand opening of the Little Free Library outside their home.

Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

By Sallie James

    Alishia Phillips admired the colorful birdhouse-shaped structure with the pretend fishbowl on top and marveled at the ingenuity. The Dr. Seuss-themed cabinet was filled with donated books, and admiring neighbors had begun to gather.
    It was the grand opening of Little Free Library No. 53087, in the 700 block of Southeast 31st Street in Boca Raton at the home of Isis O’Brien, and Phillips was impressed.
    “I didn’t know what to think of it. I thought, ‘What is this Little Free Library?’” Phillips said, holding her 10-month-old daughter, McKenna. “It’s great and it’s right here by the beach. It’s an awesome concept. It’s a great icebreaker.”
    O’Brien, a stay-at-home mother of 20-month-old Claire and 9-month-old Chloe, stumbled upon the concept online and was struck by its simplicity. She loved the idea of book sharing and community-building. It was also a perfect way to share all her children’s books.
    So she designed the library structure and paid a contractor to build it.
    Her tiny free library is part of an international book exchange that has been honored by the Library of Congress, the National Book Foundation and the American Library Association. Reader’s Digest named the idea one of the “50 Surprising Things We Love About America.”
    The small, front-yard book exchanges number more than 53,000 around the world in 70 countries. O’Brien’s cupboard-like library was installed on April 10 and the ribbon cutting was April 14.
    The concept for the book exchange is simple: Take a book, leave a book. Or share the book you took with someone else.
    The mission of the Little Free Library program is three-fold according to its website: building community, sparking creativity and inspiring readers.
    O’Brien’s grand opening just blocks from the beach attracted a small crowd — about 20 of her neighbors flocked to her front yard to admire the new installation and share pizza, cookies and drinks. Most brought books to donate.
    Neighbor Kerry Gleeson, 68, was impressed.
    “I think it’s very cool because it does a number of things. Everybody in the neighborhood comes and talks. Each of us has a book we’ve read and will be sharing, and it’s a great way to get books into people’s hands and get people to read more.”
    Deerfield Beach resident Vicki Stephens, who attended the ribbon cutting, was already a supporter of the Free Little Library concept. Stephens operated one for years out of the laundry room of her condo with much success.
    “I made it out of two crates,” Stephens said.
    O’Brien’s husband, William, enjoyed the sense of community the Little Free Library created.  “I’ve met more people in the week it’s been up than in the three years I’ve been here,” he said.
    “I think I’ll become the curator because I’m the reader,” he joked.
    Mary Lindsey, administrator of the Little Free Library network in Lake Worth, was thrilled to learn of the new addition in Boca Raton. Lindsey oversees 80 Little Free Libraries in Lake Worth, which are operated by a network of volunteers. She’s obtained grant funding and city support for the network, which has helped make books available to many low-income families.
    “These are like the oasis in the book desert. The parents are flocking to them. These are absolutely beloved in the neighborhoods they are located in,” Lindsey said. “We have had unbelievable support from the city of Lake Worth. They have been completely embraced by the entire community to a degree that I didn’t believe possible. These are absolute magic community builders. Everybody is really on board.”
    All the Lake Worth Little Free Libraries have been painted by local artists, with themes ranging from Harry Potter, Pandas at Play and the Splashy Mermaid.
    Isis O’Brien set up an account on a fundraising website with a goal of raising $500 for her project. A single donor in Australia, a former bookstore manager, donated the entire sum.
    O’Brien equipped her Little Free Library with a sensor-activated solar light so anyone who wants to peruse books at night can find something good to read.
    Her library also has a dog tie-up for book lovers who walk their pets. It can accommodate about 60 books.
    “Everybody loves it,” William O’Brien said. “If we get up to 90 books, we are gonna use the Dewey Decimal System.”

    For more information about Little Free Libraries, see www.littlefreelibrary.org.

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