Little libraries pop up all over Lansing
All over Greater Lansing — and all around the country — little take-one-or-leave-one book boxes are popping up. Often shaped like little houses or cupboards, these little libraries offer passersby a chance to pick up a free book or donate a used one. By spring, six more little libraries will sprout up in Lansing’s Westside Neighborhood.
Danielle Casavant and her husband, Rod Lambert, are finishing up the construction of six little libraries, which will make a total of nine little libraries to the neighborhood. Spurred by a grant, the Westside Neighborhood Association allocated $650 to build the six new libraries.
The concept of little libraries is simple. Individuals, organizations or businesses build a box to hold books and add a sign to encourage participants to take a book — for free — or leave a book. Many libraries have a person in charge of collecting books to keep the library stocked. Part of the fun of these little libraries is never knowing what books are going to be available.
“It’s definitely serendipitous,” Casavant said. “But it’s no substitute for a great public library.”
At one time in Michigan history, boxes filled with books were the only access families outside of big cities had to books. In 1895, Michigan, under the direction of the state librarian, began shipping oak boxes packed with 50 books “of the best literature” to farmhouses, women’s clubs and book clubs across the state.
The selection of books was quite broad, including fictional books as well as texts on religion, biographies, natural sciences and history. Similar boxes were delivered by the U.S Coast Guard to remote lighthouses to keep the keepers stimulated.
The current state librarian, Randy Riley, said he likes that the little libraries create opportunities for what he calls “random reading.”
Today’s little libraries aren’t quite as organized, but Casavant said the Westside Neighborhood is considering some themed little libraries for particular types of literature. For example, one library may host children’s books, while another may feature science fiction novels. The group put out a call for books, and the neighborhood’s response was almost immediate.
“Since the idea was posted on Facebook, a lot of neighbors responded,” Casavant said. “We are backlogged with books.”
You never know where little libraries will pop up. I recently came across a small library in the office of Michael Hourani, a Lansing nephrologist. If you are catching the I-69 expressway off of Dewitt Road, you may have noticed a new little library near Clark Road erected by John Seymour. A carpenter by trade, Seymour went all out on his little library, a 6-foot-long box filled with books. He also sells eggs from free range chickens at the same site.
“I had my first customer two days ago,” he said.
A prodigious reader, Seymour said he has “two and a half bushels of books ready to go.” A little sign tucked in front of the little library advertises “Grampa John’s Library” in black magic marker. Seymour also added a wooden head he had carved 40 years ago.
“It looks like an alien,” he said. On a recent snowy day, it looked more like a white-haired Homer Simpson.
On the east side, a “Free Little Library” sits at the southwest corner of Fairview Avenue and Tulane Drive. On the southwest side of Lansing, just off Mount Hope Avenue on Westchester Road, a beautiful blue “Doctor Who”-esque tiny phone booth hosts a little library. On Bartlett Street, close to Saginaw Highway, another little library decorated with the imprints of little hands greets book lovers. The Pinecrest, Marble and Red Cedar elementary schools also have free little libraries.
One of the more prominent little libraries is on Turner Street, just north of Grand River Avenue in Old Town. On Sunday, the little library was covered in snow with the book “Summer Harvest” peeking out.
This summer, Grand Ledge resident Matt Lloyd constructed two little libraries as an Eagle Scout project. Both are in Delta Township, one on the East West Pathway trail near the Delta Township Library and the other where the trail crosses Brookside Drive. For the little library at the Delta Township Library, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Winslow House was used for inspiration.
While most of these libraries are a grassroots effort, a Wisconsin-based nonprofit, appropriately named Little Free Library, provides support to folks interested in creating their own little library. Its website, littlefreelibrary.org, sells pre-made libraries, as well as kits to build your own. For a $40 fee, library creators can register their little libraries with the group, which maintains a Google map of registered little libraries worldwide. (The registration also includes the legal right to use the term “little free library,” which the group has copyrighted.) There are over 32,000 registered sites worldwide, but if the Lansing experience is any indication, there are likely two to three times that number that are unregistered.
Casavant said that their organization will not register its little libraries. She would rather use the money for an additional library in the neighborhood.
The little library movement isn’t exactly new. Little Free Library traces its roots back to 2009. In 2012, City Pulse profiled an East Lansing little library on Cowley Avenue, just north of Michigan Avenue.
“It’s exciting to see what new books will show up,” owner Liesel Carlson said at the time.
Check out lansingcitypulse.com for a photo gallery of little libraries. Do you know of any that we missed? Send the location and a photo of the library to firstname.lastname@example.org.