A Message from Todd H. Bol
Founder of the Little Free Library.org world wide book sharing network
Reprinted from Overdue in Paradise, The Library History of Palm Beach County, Part III: Special Libraries; Lake Worth Little Free Libraries with the very kind permission of editor, Janet DeVries. Published by Palmango Press, copyright 2017 by Janet DeVries. All rights reserved.
Available at the Book Cellar in downtown Lake Worth. Proceeds are kindly shared with the Palm Beach County Library Association and The Lake Worth Little Free Libraries project. Printed in the USA. $14.95
To the People of Lake Worth, Florida
I am honored to be able to celebrate one hundred new Little Free Libraries in your community. I am touched and proud, and pray many other communities follow your literacy leap forward. When it comes to literacy, there is work to be done. According to the Children's Literacy Foundation, in low income neighborhoods in America, there is only one book for every three hundred children; the Reading is Fundamental organization states that sixty-five percent of United States fourth-graders are reading below grade, but if a child has just twenty-five books in their home, they will complete two more years of school than a child from a home without any books at all.
I would like to share a few stories that reflect the spirit of Little Free Library and provide context to why the City of Lake Worth's accomplishment of building one hundred Little Free Libraries is so significant.
A few years ago, I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned around to see the former Governor of Wisconsin, Jim Doyle. We were attending a Wisconsin Reading Association conference, where Little Free Library was receiving an award, and Governor Doyle's wife was receiving a lifetime achievement award. Governor Doyle said to me, "My wife and I love Little Free Library. You know what, Todd-what’s going on in America is not us. We are not this divisive or this polarized, Little Free Library is more about who we are. We reach across the aisle, we reach across the street, and we pick each other up. We do not care who someone is or where they are from, we pick them up and make their life better. This is who we are as Americans.”
In 2010, I was exploring the idea of Little Free Library and trying to find support for the concept. We had only moved three or four Little Free Libraries in six months-pretty dismal results. I was thinking of quitting and throwing in the towel.
I had about thirty Little Free Libraries sitting in my backyard soon to be covered in the snow as winter was approaching. As was thinking about unwinding this Little Free Library initiative, I heard a piece on National Public Radio (NPR) about Dr. Martin Luther king, Jr. He was asked, "What would you do if you were going to die tomorrow? "He said,"1 would plant a seed, because a seed can grow, change, and produce a better tomorrow."
I realized this was the solution I needed to strategically give away the thirty Little Free Libraries in the backyard. In other words, to plant seeds of literacy and community. This strategy worked. We gave away the Little Free Libraries to organizations and individuals that represented key markets, players, and advocates. The media and the public started to support us and we grew to more than 60, 000 Little Free Libraries in 2017.
Lake Worth, Florida, stands as a great example of this growth as a seed of change, which exemplifies a better example of who we are as Americans. A town of about 30, 000 people stepped up and built one hundred Little Free Libraries and brought together the community. The mayor’s office, the library, local artists, teachers, students and neighbors, neighbors, and more neighbors. The Lake Worth community became what George Bush the first called one of the great shining lights of America. Lake Worth is a prime example of what a community can do together. It is also an example of how a community can become a better place, as neighbors connect with books and new conversations as they gather around the Little Free Libraries.
But just what is the magic of a Little Free Library? Once, after a presentation made, a man approached me and said he understands Little Free Libraries-it's all about air conditioning. He proceeded to say he was sixty-something and, when he was a kid, his parents and grandparents all read on the front porch. He played with his friends in the fields, streets, and sidewalks, and everybody knew everybody. Then we got air conditioning. We went in the house, shut the doors, locked the windows, turned on the TV, and it went downhill from there. Thus, the digital divide began. It took over fifty years, but with Little Free Libraries, we are talking again.
In my past life, I created a nursing scholarship company, and at one point I was in Mumbai, India at a hospital. I was in a gymnasium-sized room that had about fifty beds with several people by each bedside and one nurse. I asked the nurse how she could take care of all of these people. She said she was from India, and they are a poor country; they will never have all the resources that they need to properly take care of the patients. The Indian nurse continued to say, “See all of these people by the patients? These are friends, neighbors, relatives, and loved ones. I teach them to take vital signs, feed them, and care for them. We call them' watchers,' and you would be surprised how well we do with watchers.”
The moral of the story is, we likely will never have all the resources we need, but when all else fails we have each other to depend on and build a better place - a better community. Our traditional education, systems, schools, libraries, and parents likely will never have all the financial resources necessary to reach our shared literacy goals, but when we all work together, we can take steps forward. You may not be able to solve literacy issues in your country, state, or even your city, but you can take care of your neighborhood's Juan, Suzie, Mohammad, and Billy.
This is very similar to civil rights, feminism, or other social consciousness movements. You must believe you can create change and you are personally responsible to make the change. Our traditional educational structures need to be augmented and supported by each and every one of us in order to reach desired literacy goals that we all read well together. We all do better when we all read better.
The Lake Worth community has stepped up and said: We are talking again and working together to fix our own community around a book, a conversation. We are also moving forward to really make a difference as a shining example for other communities. As I understand, almost forty other Florida communities are inspired to follow in Lake Worth's footsteps.
While the seed has been planted, the greatest deeds are ahead. How will these beautiful Lake Worth Little Free Libraries become ongoing contributors to literacy and art, and serve as a significant part of the community's fabric for years to come? I am a big believer that each community and each individual must ask, how am I part of the village?
Now that the door is opening to improved literacy and community life, how will this Little Free Library neighborhood be expanded and accelerated and become an even better story of a great city?
This is a chapter that you need to write. We can only share what others have done, such as: Start an Action Book Club, read stories to neighbors, start a neighborhood pen pal club, participate in Bookoween, make sure every child has six new books every summer. You can have book swaps and book-based potlucks, share and cook family heirloom meals, share tools, start a community garden, or read books to neighborhood pets. Make sure all buses, meals on wheels, churches, and police cars have mobile Little Free Libraries. Start sister Little Free Libraries, urban and rural, across the state, country, and globe. Remember that wherever people shall gather, there shall be books.
Peace on earth will only ever happen if we know and care for each other, and it is my hope that the great community of Lake Worth has taken a beautiful step forward. We all do better when we all do better, and you're well on your way.