Love of Learning: Check out the Little Free Libraries

Hello, Philomath, happy spring! It has been fun to see all the beautiful trees and flowers blooming around here lately. The birds are chirping and the sky is blue. Another thing I have noticed in Philomath, Corvallis and Albany are lots of Little Free Libraries popping up just like the blooms of spring.

During the pandemic, many people were stuck at home. The Philomath library was closed for much of the past year. People became interested in pursuing do-it-yourself (DIY) woodworking projects. People could putter in their shop or their garage creating lots of sawdust, applying some imagination and ultimately creating something very special with the rest of the community: a Free Little Library.

Where did Free Little Libraries originate from? Todd H. Bol created the first Little Free Library in 2009 in Hudson, Wisconsin, launching what would become a global book-sharing movement. Todd built the inaugural Little Free Library book exchange in honor of his mother, a schoolteacher and lifelong reader.

Todd Bol was quoted as saying “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.”

I contacted Lexie Neeley, who is the programs coordinator for littlefreelibrary.org. I asked her how many little libraries are there in Oregon and the United States? Her response back was as follows: “According to our records, there are about1,358 registered Little Free Libraries in Oregon. The number for the entire U.S. is a little trickier to nail down, as not all of our records have been digitized. There are roughly 115,000 libraries in the U.S. in our records.”

I later went for a springtime walk along Applegate Street, turned on 30th Street, and took a left on Southwood Drive past a beautiful blossoming cherry tree. Not long after that, I walked up to the crest of the hill and found a beautiful little library there. I opened the door and looked through some of the books. I pulled out a wonderful children’s book titled “The Little Engine That Could.” This is a timeless American folktale that was written by Watty Piper back in 1930 and has probably been read by all of us since then. The book just celebrated its 90th anniversary last year.

Cherry tree
A beautiful cherry tree with pink blossoms sits at the corner of 30th Street and Southwood Drive. (Photo by Eric Niemann)

The first page of the book reads, “Chug, chug, chug, Puff, puff, puff. Ding-dong,ding-dong. The little train rumbled over the tracks.

She was a happy little train for she had such a jolly load to carry. Her cars were filled full of good things for boys and girls.”

I stopped and thought that Little Free Libraries are a lot like the Little Engine that could. They are small but powerful. When the main Philomath library closed due to the pandemic, it made us become creative and find new ways to share books and find connection with one another.

The Little Engine That Could
“The Little Engine That Could” appeared in the Little Free Library Charter No. 34383 on Southwood Drive. (Photo by Eric Niemann)

The fact that strangers share a book and take a book is a great way for us to continue to better ourselves and our community. While the world news these days is hard to take in, whole new worlds await in the books you can find in a little library just down the street. I encourage you to take some time from your busy lives and “check them out.”

When I got to the end of the Little Engine that Could, I noticed a letter in the back of the book written by Dolly Parton, the country music singing sensation. She started her letter writing that “twenty years ago, she decided to offer a free book gifting program to the children in her hometown. The program became the start of what is now called the “Imagination Library.”

She went on to recall her childhood in East Tennessee where in her experience was not a place where dreams easily came true. She writes “on many occasions, when my dreams felt far away, my mama would tell me the story of the Little Engine to comfort and encourage me. While I listened to her, I would close my eyes and think of myself as the Little Engine and just start saying over and over again, “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.” It gave me strength, it gave me hope, and it gave me the courage to keep chasing my dreams.”

Since Dolly started the Imagination Library, her organization and its partners have given away over 5 million copies of the Little Engine to children all over the United States and Canada. Dolly writes, “that the Little Engine is much more than a book in a child’s hands. It is an expression of our love to ignite the aspirations of children to be whomever they want to be.”

Dolly’s Imagination Library Program is a special gift to every child regardless of income. They send every child that is registered with their program a free book every month for the first five years of their lives. Dolly says on the website, that “Before he passed away, my Daddy told me the Imagination Library was probably the most important thing I had ever done. I can’t tell you how much that meant to me because I created the Imagination Library as a tribute to my Daddy.”

In recognition of the 25th anniversary of Imagination Library, Dolly Parton just recently released a documentary about the program. You can view it at this link: imaginationlibrary.com/film/#featured.

If you know a child or a family that can use this wonderful gift of literacy in Philomath, please pass along this link: imaginationlibrary.com/check-availability. They can register to get a free children’s book every month from birth to age 5 for free from the Dollywood Foundation. Dolly offers the gift of reading to kids everywhere. This is a great thing to share with families throughout Philomath. It came from a Little Free Library on Southwood. Choo-choo.

Handmade bookmarks
Notice the uplifting words of encouragement, “Stay Strong, & Smile” on these handmade bookmarks that were made by children and left for strangers looking for an encouraging word in the Little Free Library on 19th Street near the Philomath Youth Activities Club. (Photo by Eric Niemann)

(Eric Niemann is a former mayor and city councilor in Philomath. He can be reached at[email protected]).

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