Lake Worth Little Free Libraries
by Paige Turner
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.
Andrew Carnegie is regarded as the Patron Saint of Libraries. As a 13 year old boy, Andrew emigrated from Scotland to America with his family. They sought to escape the crushing poverty and despair that the birth of the industrial age had wrought among self-supporting home based craftsmen in his hometown of Dunfermline, Scotland. Since medieval time, Dunfermline was known as the capital for the finest linens, hand woven by generations of skilled artisans. Andrew’s father, Will, was a weaver. He struggled to find a place for his family in the new roaring world of machines that had taken over their ancient homeland. He saw and lamented the conditions under which his fellows were driven to toil. After his reform movement collapsed, Will and Margaret Carnegie sold everything and brought their sons and their futures to America.
But the machines that drove them from their homeland were here before they were. Will Carnegie established a weaving shop in Allegheny where the family settled with relatives, but that eventually failed as well. Young Andrew joined the throngs of immigrants working in the New World factories. He educated himself with books loaned to him and other factory boys by a neighbor who opened his extensive private library to them; an act of kindness unheard of in those days. Andrew read voraciously, worked tirelessly and developed the skills to advance in one industry after another. Inevitably he amassed a great fortune and turned that into an even greater fortune. At the age of 35, Andrew Carnegie was one of the wealthiest men ever to walk on planet Earth.
Andrew Carnegie never forgot what having access to a library meant to him and his fortunes. He believed there could never be a more productive investment than the founding of a public library. He spent more than $50 million to build and establish 2,509 public libraries all over the world, with 1,679 in the United States alone.
Moving forward 139 years. Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin wanted to honor the memory of his mother; a teacher for 30 years. He built a little replica of a one room school house, set it on a post in his front yard and put a sign on it announcing “Free Books.” Friends and neighbors loved the idea and asked Todd to build a little book exchange box for them. Two years and some 40 book boxes later, Todd and his friend, Rick Brooks saw the possibilities to build community, enhance literacy and bring books to those who had limited access to public libraries. They formed a non-profit organization, Little Free Library and set as their goal, the establishment of 2,510 Little Free Libraries, one more than the number of public libraries established by Andrew Carnegie.
By 2011, there were more than 400 Little Free Libraries and by 2012, that number increased tenfold. In 2015, there were more than 25,000 Little Free Libraries in more than 40 countries around the world. A picture of one made its way to Facebook and the idea spread like wildfire throughout the community of Lake Worth, Florida where there are currently more than 100 Little Free Libraries within safe and easy walking distance of every neighbor in the City. The Lake Worth Little Free Libraries project was born.
The first steps in beginning the project were taken at City Hall, where the idea was presented to the City Manager, Mike Bornstein who enthusiastically endorsed the idea and cleared the way for the planting of these Little Free Libraries in public parks, in greenways, at the beach, at the Snook Island nature preserve, at the public boat ramp and in the city’s rights of way at private homes and elementary schools all over the City. Initial funding came through grants awarded by the Palm Beach County Office of Community Revitalization and by the time the grants were processed, more than 45 neighbors had signed up to receive one of these Little Free Libraries and serve as a Steward for it. When the first shipment of 24 Little Free Libraries arrived at the city’s utility warehouse, sixty-five neighbors came to unpack, prime and paint all of them in one day.
The number of Little Free Libraries in Lake Worth grew to more than 50 in the first year as more Little Free Libraries were funded through the generosity of private individuals, local businesses and other non-profits. The fabulous Lake Worth community of artists stepped up to donate their time and talent and thus was built the three way foundation of art, literacy and community upon which Lake Worth thrives.
Hundreds of neighbors have donated tens of thousands of books for grown-ups and for children. A $5,000 grant awarded by the Lake Worth Community Development Corporation funded $15,000 worth of children’s books in Spanish and Creole. Publishers and book distributors fell under the spell of Little Free Libraries and offered tremendous discounts. The Palm Beach County School District provides Lake Worth Little Free Libraries the opportunity to cull through books no longer essential in classrooms and school libraries. This is the first School District in the nation to so embrace the Little Free Libraries, and in the summer of 2017, more than 10,000 children’s books were put in circulation throughout the neighborhoods.
When the initial grant money ran out, the people of Lake Worth stepped up. The Lake Worth Little Free Libraries are built for the cost of materials only by a most generous and skilled neighbor. Every drop of paint on every one of the Little Free Libraries is funded through the generosity of the Friends of the Lake Worth Library group and a staggering discount provided by the local Sherwin Williams paint store.
Businesses and Neighborhood Associations throughout the city have funded more than half of the Little Free Libraries and continue to offer their support for maintenance, promotion and care. The Lake Worth Community Redevelopment Agency even ‘wrapped’ one of the electrical switching boxes with a collage of Little Free Libraries and a local bench advertising company has donated space on bus stop benches reminding Lake Worth neighbors to “Take A Book ~ Leave A Book”. The Lake Worth Herald, Lake Worth’s oldest business, has published dozens of stories about the Little Free Libraries. They have generously donated printing for many thousands of book marks and other materials used to promote the Little Free Libraries.
In close partnership and multiple cross promotions and programs with the Lake Worth Public Library, Little Free Libraries in Lake Worth have made “Take A Book ~ Leave A Book” a familiar and beloved motto for sharing the best of everything the people of Lake Worth treasure; literacy, art and above all, community. Little Free Libraries are happy ambassadors for the big public Library and vice versa.
The Lake Worth Little Free Libraries project is incorporated as a non-profit organization in the State of Florida. Every one of the Lake Worth Little Free Libraries is chartered and registered with the world-wide organization. Book exchanges are certainly not something new, but the Lake Worth Little Free Libraries project believes it is important to honor the genius and the work that has made these little book boxes a world-wide phenomenon with more than 60,000 Little Free Libraries currently chartered in more than 70 countries around the world.
The Lake Worth Little Free Libraries project is a 100 percent volunteer driven effort committed to enhancing literacy and building on the strong community that Lake Worth has always enjoyed. There are more than 100 Stewards who tend each of the Little Free Libraries. There primary purpose is to so engage their neighbors that everyone who comes in contact with a Little Free Library knows to a certainty that it belongs to them. The community has embraced this project with its whole heart and rallies whenever a call is issued for more books.
A question frequently asked is how the Lake Worth Little Free Libraries project was able to grow so fast. The answer lies in the simple fact that there was already a committed and deeply engaged community in place. Lake Worth is fertile ground for a project that thrives on the kindness and generosity of so many people. Many people and many businesses have contributed funds to the project asking only that a Little Free Library be planted in any neighborhood where it is needed most. Many Little Free Libraries have been funded to honor the memory of loved ones.
The success of the Lake Worth Little Free Libraries project has inspired several nearby communities to initiate their own projects. Palm Beach County, with its rich history of grand public libraries is well on its way to becoming Little Free Libraryland!