By Daniele Berman, Operations Manager
Todd Bol doesn’t necessarily fit the mold, if there is one, for the founder and leader of what he calls a “global grassroots” movement. In fact, his answer to many of the questions people ask him begins with a casual midwestern, “Well, that’s an interesting story.”
On his two-week journey from Alabama to Washington, D.C. where he will attend the Library of Congress National Book Festival, Little Free Library founder Bol is stopping and visiting library stewards in cities and towns across the Southeast. It’s appropriate, perhaps, that the man whose vision is to improve the world one neighborhood book swap box at a time is a man with lots of stories to tell–and one who is eager to hear the stories of those he meets along the way, too. Yesterday, Bol’s adventure brought him to Durham, where he met up with Little Free Library stewards in Trinity Park and then paid a special visit to our library here at Book Harvest.
While his vision is one that has caught fire across the world since 2012–to the tune of 40,000 libraries in all 50 states and over 70 countries as of this June–Bol’s project didn’t start with the goal of changing the world. In fact, he built the first Little Free Library in 2009 in memory of his mother, as a way for her life-long love of books to live on as he and his neighbors shared books through the schoolhouse-shaped box in his yard.
The rest is history, as they say: his story as Bol travels across the Southeast sharing his vision for the ways Little Free Libraries are changing neighborhoods and communities, as well as the stories he gathers from the library stewards he meets along the way, who tell how their libraries came to be places for their neighbors to share the stories they love. And while he explains that every library prototype he designs has to pass the “cute test”–if no one tells him the design is cute, he scraps it–Bol’s vision for what the libraries are up to is far more than just cute.
Bol’s forward-looking vision is to focus the expansion of local library networks in neighborhoods representing the highest need. One story he shared with the group gathered at Trinity Park is from the Los Angeles police department, which reports that their Little Free Libraries fight crime directly. In that city, 85% of juveniles who end up in the court system are functionally illiterate, and so the officers advocate for the value of the neighborhood swap boxes in the areas where youth are most likely to fall into crime. The Kids, Community and Cops Program is an outgrowth of that understanding, through which Bol is partnering with police departments across the country to place libraries strategically where children need books the most.
Thanks to the downtown Durham Rotary group, Book Harvest is the steward of one of the 16 Little Free Libraries currently in our city. Rotarians Joe Houde and Todd Taylor led a group to build libraries as part of their literacy focus, and those libraries are slowly finding their way into neighborhoods around the city: in front of our office, in the front yard of new Habitat for Humanity homeowners in East Durham, and in the YMCA. At Book Harvest, our library is a place where we can share books with our neighbors that aren’t a good fit for our children’s programs: adult fiction, cookbooks, and travel guides are among the many types of books you will find available on our front porch. We know that changing the literacy landscape and creating book-rich environments involves everyone, and while our mission remains focused on building home libraries for children who need books the most, we love having this way to share books with the larger community of readers that visits our neighborhood.
Thanks, Todd, for stopping by to visit Book Harvest while you were in town!