Those Little Libraries

Hannah Lane-Davies and her Little Free Library.

If you love learning and libraries, Kalamazoo County is a great place to live. In fact, it’s home to libraries so small they fit on a pole.

Thanks to 14-year-old Hannah Lane-Davies and her family, the national Little Free Library movement has come to Kalamazoo. Hannah saw a LFL for the first time while on a trip to St. Paul in 2012. “It was love at first sight,” she says. “We looked online and saw there were only 12 LFLs in Michigan, and none were in Kalamazoo. So I knew it would be great for the community.”

What exactly is a Little Free Library? Basically, it’s a small decorated wooden box containing 30 to 40 books that sits on a post outdoors, usually in participants’ front yards or businesses. The books are free. People who pass by a LFL can take or leave a book anytime; they often add notes inside for other readers.

The LFL movement was started in Hudson, Wis., in 2009 by Todd Bol and Rick Brooks to promote worldwide literacy and community building. When Hannah and her family opened their LFL in September 2012 at their home in the Westnedge Hill neighborhood, it was number 3,761 on the international list. Since then, 12 more Kalamazoo and Portage families have become official “stewards” of their own LFLs — with another seven to be installed by the end of summer.

“Hannah is adding a unique piece to the LFL movement,” Elizabeth Lane-Davies notes. “In July we had our first Kalamazoo/Portage stewards meeting, with 15 interested and active families.”

“Other communities have LFLs, but the stewards don’t necessarily know each other,” Hannah explains. “We’re trying to connect the local stewards so we can share resources and advice. We want to make sure this isn’t a ‘one-hit wonder’ project.”

The Lane-Davies family was able to help establish the original LFLs thanks, in part, to support from the Gretchen LaReau Memorial Fund of the Kalamazoo Community Foundation, an Advised Fund established in 1993 by the LaReau family in memory of their daughter.

“We’re very grateful to the Community Foundation, and especially to the LaReau family, for their interest and support,” Hannah says. “Things have come full circle as we’ve gotten to know the family. They set up their own LFL this summer. We have really enjoyed learning about Gretchen and her interests, especially how much she loved books. You could totally see her setting up her own LFL.”

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