SOLON– The best things in life really are still free.
And books are some of the best life has to offer.
That’s why Solon’s Jack Neuzil chose to initiate Solon’s first Little Free Library just outside Solon in the north Twin View Heights subdivision.
“Even in this digital age, books still appeal,” said Neuzil.
The Little Free Library project was started by Wisconsin native Todd Bol as a tribute to his mother, a school teacher and avid reader who shared her love of books to Todd. When she passed away, he built and installed in front of his Hudson, Wis. home a small box resembling a one-room school house with a hinged door and a message: “Take a book. Leave a book.”
The idea was to create a free, 24/7 book exchange. Bol had no way of knowing how the concept would proliferate. Not only did the people of Hudson use the free book exchange, but everyone wanted to know where to get one, and how to start one of their own. In the three years since Bol’s first installation, a group of volunteers– including Bol– created the Little Free Library organization, crafted a website full of resources and information for people wanting to start their own little library exchange, and began a registration process so the world’s Little Free libraries could be counted and collectively posted on a map. When a library is registered and a photograph submitted, the applicant receives a free sign and a charter number. The library boxes have been cropping up so quickly that the volunteers have no way of knowing exactly how many exist right now, but the organization has sent out more than 650 of its official wooden signs to 40 different states and 20 countries including Ghana, Australia and Afghanistan. The project’s stated goal is to verify 2,510 Little Free libraries around the world– one more than all those built by 20th century philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.
Neuzil was visiting St. Paul, Minn., when he saw his first Little Free Library.
“Then I came back to Iowa and saw in the Des Moines Register that someone was building one in Iowa City,” said Neuzil. “I thought, what a great idea.”
Neuzil set about gathering reclaimed materials from his friend, rural Solon resident and barn builder Dick Schwab, and he was on his way.
“The idea is to use as much salvaged material as you can,” said Neuzil. Other Little Free Libraries have been crafted from canoe remnants, old pay phone booths, cranberry crates and even defunct newspaper vending boxes, resembling everything from old barns and rustic cabins to Victorian architecture and urban design, painted with garden scenes, animal prints, modern art and through-provoking text, among hundreds of other creative motifs.
On April 24, Neuzil was ready to install the new library on a post at the Twin View Heights entrance, and enlisted the help of some neighborhood children to dig the post hole, assemble the pieces and inaugurate Solon’s first Little Free Library with its first deposit of literature.
Ellie Hawkins is a voracious reader who brought some of her favorite titles, including a joke book full of knock-knock jokes that she read aloud as she carried them to the bookstand. She said she plans to use the Little Free Library frequently.
“This way I won’t have to wait for people to recommend good books,” said Hawkins.
Also helping with the project were Dan Krafka, and students Noah and Daniel Kotenstette, Alec Jewett and Lydia Garmoe.
“This is a good idea because instead of my parents having to drive me five miles to get a book at the Solon library, I can get one here,” said Alec.
“You can check out books without the hassle of late fees and overdue books,” said Daniel, who estimated his family has upwards of 100 titles they can donate to the Little Free Library. “We have a lot of books.”
Six-year-old Lydia thought it was a good idea all the way around.
“I wanted to help the earth,” she said, relating to the concept of using recycled materials to build the structure, and keeping old books from filling the landfill by finding a new home on someone’s book shelf. “Maybe I will get one of those joke books,” she added. “I have none of those right now.”
A map on the Little Free Library website– www.littlefreelibrary.org–shows only two registered sites in Iowa. Neuzil made sure to get a photograph of the library and the kids who offered their assistance to install it. He will submit it to the Little Free Library organization and ask for Solon’s Little Free Library to be added to the map.
Neuzil said someone expressed concern that the unsupervised nature and location of the structure would be vandalized, but he is not worried.
“Our kids don’t do that,” said Neuzil confidently. “They’re not that way.” In fact, the Little Free Library organization has only received a single report of vandalizing, in which a door was removed, but a neighbor promptly found the missing door and replaced it within a day.
Neuzil wanted to emphasize that the bookstand is not just for children, but for readers of any age. He encourages everyone to bring the books they no longer read, and hopes someone will find just the treasure they are looking for among the small shelves.
“There is just something magic about a book that doesn’t happen with a computer,” said Neuzil.
That’s right; no time limits, no download fees or creating an account.
It’s much more simple. Take a book. Leave a book.