BND Magazine

August 3, 2014

Check it out: Little Free Libraries pop up around metro-east

Belleville resident Linda Havlin read several books that she never would have read if it weren't for the Little Free Library on Signal Hill Place in West Belleville.

The books included "My FBI" by Louis J. Freeh; "The Red Pony" by John Steinbeck; and "Beyond Tomorrow" by Fern Michaels.

To promote reading, Little Free Libraries are being added to neighborhoods throughout the metro-east. The idea is to take a book from this small library housed in a wooden box designed to look like a house and leave a book for another. It's kind of like the leave a penny, take a penny dishes often found at local businesses' cash registers.

The City of O'Fallon is the latest metro-east community to add a new Little Free Library to one of its neighborhoods. A Little Free Library was recently installed outside the Progressive Property Network at 1001 S. Lincoln in O'Fallon.

The Little Free Library initiative in O'Fallon is being spearheaded by the Rotary Club of O'Fallon.

"We were looking at community projects that met the goals of the club," said Walter Denton, a past president of the Rotary Club and city administrator for O'Fallon. "I saw an article about one in Wisconsin, and I thought it would be something fun to do in O'Fallon."

The Little Free Library movement started in Wisconsin, when Todd Bol, of Hudson, Wis., built the first toy-size schoolhouse as a tribute to his schoolteacher mother. He filled it with books and installed it on a post outside his home in 2009. It is now an international organization, helping communities build Little Free Libraries everywhere.

The Rotary Club of O'Fallon, which promotes literacy, installed its first Little Free Library at the Katy Cavins Community Center at O'Fallon Community Park. Club members take care of the library and ensure it remains stocked with books.

"This is a very low tech, easy way for kids and adults to get books in their hands," he said. "There's no rules other than if you take a book, we just hope people would also donate a book. That way everyone would have an opportunity to enjoy reading."

Since installing its first one last year, the club has built five or six other Little Free Libraries including the one installed at Progressive Property Network. Some of the libraries were creatively decorated by volunteers recruited through the O'Fallon Arts Commission as well as schoolchildren.

The Little Free Library at the Katy Cavins Center was decorated by kindergarten students at Estelle Kampmeyer Elementary School in O'Fallon.

"They have all different kinds of designs," Denton said of the Little Free Libraries. One Little Free Library design features the Cat in the Hat and another Mickey Mouse.

The idea behind the Rotary Club's Little Free Library initiative is to adopt the libraries out to other community organizations, businesses or neighborhoods.

"We want other groups and community organizations to get excited about it, and they join in the program," Denton said. "The goal and vision is to get libraries in neighborhoods where people just walking down the street can go check it out."

That's precisely what Havlin had in mind when West End Redevelopment Corporation in Belleville installed a Little Free Library, at 47 Signal Hill Place near Signal Hill School, in May.

"We hope that everyone in the area uses it," Havlin said.

The Little Free Library is made of cedar wood and painted green, yellow and red and has a cedar-shingle roof so it can withstand the weather. It's a rather large wooden house with two shelves -- the top one is for adult books and the bottom for children's books.

The Little Free Libraries, which can be placed indoors or outdoors, vary widely in size, shape and design. Some look like large birdhouses while others resemble one-room schoolhouses.

The West End Redevelopment Corporation received a $250 grant through the Belleville Neighborhood Partnership to construct the library. It was painted by students from Signal Hill and Blessed Sacrament schools.

"It was truly a community effort," Havlin said, of building and installing the Little Free Library.

Havlin said anyone is welcome to donate books for the library. Donations of adult and children's books can be dropped off at Havlin's house at 19 Signal Hill Blvd. in Belleville.

Havlin is the "steward" of the Little Free Library near Signal Hill School.

"I try to moderate it," she said, "and make sure there's appropriate materials and we have a variety of different age groups."

Havlin said the little library is well-used. She often finds several replacement books that are the "leave a book" when books with the Little Free Library label inside are taken.

The one on Signal Hill Place wasn't the first Little Free Library in West Belleville. For his Eagle Scout project, Brenden Heidenfelder built and installed four Little Free Libraries during the summer of 2012.

"I had help," Heidenfelder admitted. "I didn't do it all on my own. All my (Boy Scout) leaders were very helpful."

Heidenfelder, a member of Boy Scout Troop 12, said it was a lot of work constructing four Little Free Libraries. "I felt like the Eagle project to earn the award I set the bar high," he said. "I needed to make a big impact."

Heidenfelder, 19, is attending Southwestern Illinois College in Belleville this summer and plans to transfer to Southern Illinois University Edwardsville in the fall. He is the son of Mike Heidenfelder of Belleville and Elizabeth Heidenfelder of Belleville.

Those interested in sponsoring a Little Free Library can build their own or buy one on the website at www.littlefreelibrary.org. The website has a map of the Little Free Library locations all over the world.

So go out and get a book from one of the Little Free Libraries in the area, there is no library card required or no late fees. Just remember to leave a book in it's place.

Here's a list of local Little Free Libraries:

* 47 Signal Hill Place, Belleville

* 1200 Moreland Drive, Belleville

* 7401 Westchester Drive, Belleville

* 5720 W. Main St., Belleville; inside Bank of Edwardsville

* 3685 Sullivan St., Belleville; inside Bank of Edwardsville

* 305 E. 5th St., O'Fallon

* 1408 Keck Ridge Drive, O'Fallon

* 6368 Center Grove Road, Edwardsville

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