Clearwater’s Donna Kellner stands next to the Little Free Library, which she has erected, outside her home.
CLEARWATER - It has often been said that living in a big city makes it tough to get to know your neighbors. Everyone is so busy with work and family no one has time to stop and chat anymore.
That is, unless there is something to chat about, and that’s where the Little Free Library comes in.
The Little Free Library is an idea that seems to be catching on all over North America and has taken root in one particular neighborhood in Clearwater.
The concept is based on the premise, “If you build it they will come.” The idea is to build a small structure, roughly about 2 square feet, and place it outside your house. Fill it with books that are free to borrow or take, then sit back and watch as the neighbors gather and get to know one another.
Todd Bol of Hudson, Wis., is the founder of the Little Free Library organization. He says it was something he thought up to honor his mother.
“It is a free book exchange to promote literacy and the appreciation of books,” he said. “My mom loved people, and she always made you feel better about yourself. We always had books around and I had a lot of books; when she died, there were a lot of books left. So I celebrated her and put in the Little Free Library.”
Bol said after he built one, he put it in a garage sale, and it had a special effect on people.
“People treated it like they would a puppy; they got excited, it was magic the way it opened up neighborhoods,” he said. “That was four years ago, and people say that they have met more neighbors than they have in years. They stop and talk and just mingle with one another.”
Since then Bol said there are Little Free Libraries in more than 50 countries.
“A woman from Ukraine contacted us and she built 100 of them,” he said.
The library can take any form according to Bol, and they can be located anywhere.
“It can just be a box, or shaped like a house or cottage or a store then hung on a post outside your front door, or in parks or on docks or even on islands where only fishermen go,” he said. “The key to success is a passionate steward who looks after it and maintains it and their book exchange.”
In Clearwater, there is no doubt that passionate steward is Donna Kellner. She lives on N. Madison Avenue and is as enthusiastic about her Little Free Library today as she was when she installed it a year and a half ago.
“I saw a story about the Little Free Library on one of the national news programs one night and immediately said, I’ve got to do that,” she said. “I’m a big book lover and have hundreds of books in my house and decided it was something I had to do.”
So Kellner, 54, went online, found the website, ordered a kit and, with her husband Larry, put it together. From there, she said it was only a matter of filling it with books and get it going. She said it didn’t take long to catch on.
“I’m a shy person, so I didn’t have a grand opening or anything like that,” she said. “I just put it out there and I watched. A couple of neighbors thought it was a mailbox, but after about a week, more people came and looked and read the information sheet and suddenly it became very popular,” she said.
Kellner said there has been no issue with vandalism or theft at all.
“How can you steal something that is given, free,” she said. “There are no real rules; give a book, return a book. Some people even add to it and the library is never empty. Each book has a sticker that says this book is always a gift, never for sale. I have a light inside my library so people even come by at night and browse through the books.”
Founder Bol says it shouldn’t be surprising that the Little Free Library manages to bring people together. He says it is a natural instinct for people to want to interact.
“We want to get along with our neighbors and friends, and this is something that brings us together. The Library is a great statement about how people want to be together and connect to each other face to face. This is Facebook with a face,” he said.
That has proven true in Clearwater in Kellner’s Madison Avenue neighborhood.
“I have met people I hadn’t seen in 30 years,” she said. “I’ve met people from Tampa and St. Pete and people on vacation from North Carolina. I’ve met a lot of children. They call me the book fairy so it has been great. I’ve loved books since I was a little girl and this is my dream.”