Tag Archives: Neighborhoods

Little Free Libraries Share the Joy of Good Reads and Good Neighbors

Little Free Library at Silverwood Park

Little Free Library at Silverwood Park

For a very long time I’ve been intending to celebrate the growth and popularity of the Little Free Libraries that continue to pop up in neighborhoods throughout the Twin Cities and far beyond.  The time is now, because the Little Free Library project has just received the 2013 Innovations in Reading Prize awarded by the National Book Foundation!  The prize honors individuals and institutions that have created innovative ways to initiate and sustain a lifelong love of learning.

In this case, the institution is the Little Free Library (LF) and the innovators are Todd Bol and Rick Brooks.  It all started in 2009 when the two men met at a workshop Brooks taught at UW-M where he was outreach program manager in continuing studies.  Brooks had some previous library experience helping build and maintain library collections in third world countries where he also had  experience in community development.  Bol was between gigs, obviously full of energy and ideas.  In the early years, LFL was a project of Wisconsin Partners for Sustainability.  Since 2012 LFL has operated as a nonprofit operating out of International HQ in Hudson Wisconsin.

The story is a delightful tale of a good idea brought to fruition by a couple of committed people with a vision.  Since the project began in 2009 Little Free Library exchanges have burst on the scene in 30 countries.  The first LFL consisted of a box of books that looked like a one-room schoolhouse with a sign that read “Free Books.”  The LFL was posted on Brooks’ front lawn in Hudson,  Wisconsin, established as a memorial to Bol’s mother, a bibliophile teacher

Today, the hub of the every LFL exchange is a bird-house size “library” that houses a snatch of books that circulate on the honor system.  The mission is “to promote a sense of community, reading for children, literacy for adults, and libraries around the world.”   The founders remind participants in the exchange that “sense of community trumps everything.”

Little Free Libraries assume unique personalities and permutations as the ideas and adaptations expand.  In Minneapolis, the Books for All in Minneapolis (http://www.littlefreelibrary.org/books-for-all-in-minneapolis.html)  has its own structure and persona.  Each neighborhood that agrees to host a LFL identifies an individual or group to serve as a steward for their Library.  Stewards give the Library and books the care they need.  Sponsors contribute funds that cover the cost to build, deliver and install a unique LFL.  Each Library holds 20-40 books, many donated by generous sponsors such as Northeast Minneapolis publisher Coffee House Press which was contributed thousands of books and generous cash gifts to the project.  Each site sports a sign that recognizes the sponsor(s) and indicates that this LFL is registered as part of the city and now global network of exchanges.

LFL has also attracted the attention and generous support of AARP.  The Touch Points Project is designed to address the challenges faced by socially isolated older adults.  Bol and Brooks describe the project as one that write that “will build upon the connections and common interests stimulated by reading-related activities generated by neighborhood book exchanges.  The idea is to bring people together by reading aloud, promoting friendly visits, book discussions and other ways to engage isolated older adults in community life, especially those who are vulnerable to loneliness and ill health because of limited means.  The steps and procedures for interested individuals and groups to participate in the AARP project are available at http://www.littlefreelibrary.org/reaching-out-to-socially-isolated-older-adults.

No surprise, libraries are key players in the LFL movement.  Though there is no requirement for library involvement, Brooks and Bol say that “this entire program has been designed with Friends of Libraries in mind.  Little Libraries offer creative and upbeat outreach tools to extend the reach of the public library to parts of your community that might not otherwise use it.”

The LFL website (http://www.littlefreelibrary.org) is a vibrant and endlessly informative resource.  Check it out for an update on the project’s global development, including an interactive map of sites,  and details about LFL sites, especially photos of the imaginative designs created by readers and craftspeople of every stripe.  Through June 21, 2013 you’ll have a chance to participate in the LFL film festival!  You’ll also find a great video that introduces Brooks and Bol  putting words to their vision – you’ll soon find yourself envisioning a host of LFL’s popping up in your own  front yard or neighborhood.

Neighborhoods USA Conference – Ideas, Energy and an Opportunity Missed

The Neighborhoods USA conference which I’ve been attending for the past two days was a delight and a disappointment – the first being the responsibility of the planners who get great credit, the latter the responsibility of local organizatons and neighborhoods who missed the boat.

During my time at the national conference I met some incredible people who had a message their community wants to share.  For example, I learned stories about the Little Rock school integration that I will always remember.  There were great discussions of neighborhood concerns ranging from sustainability to economics to organizing for social justice and change.

I also met some local representatives of what is happening in the Twin Cities, mostly Minneapolis.  The Heart of the Beast, for example, staff of Park and Rec who had great ideas for positive action, representatives of local organizations including Amicus, Loring Park, Windom and Seward neighborhoods.   Attendees had a chance to take some great bus tours of the Riverfront, the Northeast arts district, the Midtown Greenway,  the Lake Street Corridor and more.

Regrettably, it seemed to me that there were the omissions.  There was no mention of Metro Transit or the impact it has on our community and our neighborhoods;  no discussion of community-building and support systems such as community gardens or food shelves that might serve neighbors in need, nothing about our community’s public education system or community media (other than police);  CURA had a booth and the U of M Libraries Tretter collection was reflected in a display.  I saw very little about the dynamics of neighborhood forces such as coops, senior centers, or projects related to communities of faith.  In truth I was most saddened by the fact that public libraries were nowhere to be seen on the program or in the exhibits.  I’ve always told myself that strong libraries were the glue the binds the neighborhood in a common pursuit of learning.

Bottom line, there are hundreds of people of good will who are giving their all to build community within their neighborhoods  They are working in very different urban environments, subject to influences beyond the neighborhoods in which they hope to create harmony and healthy living conditions for all.  Meeting the attendees from around the country was an inspiration.

As I reflect on the conference experience I am thinking that institutions may be so focused on themselves that they don’t put a priority on the agencies and individuals – often volunteers – that make a neighborhood work.  Schools, libraries, police, transit and city government are all top down operations.  Though neighborhoods exist on a wall map, they are real to the residents, not the decision-makers.

Strong neighborhoods with which  residents identify and in which we take pride takes time, focus and footwork not just on the part of over-stressed staffs but on the part of residents.   It was informative and fun, also humbling, to learn about what’s happening and could happen in other cities and to think of how I can be a more active participant in my own Windom Park neighborhood in beautiful Northeast Minneapolis.


Visualizing Neighborhoods: A Hackathon for Good – May 25

For some Minneapolitans the forthcoming Neighborhoods, USA conference, scheduled to meet in the Mill City May 22-25 offers a grand opportunity to parade the city’s robust mix of healthy neighborhoods, lakes, parks, commercial areas, shopping opportunities and more.   For others, the harmonic convergence of NUSA with the Free and Open Source Software for Geospatial North America (FOSS4G) makes a unique opportunity to heard on the complementary energies of attendees who just happen to be in Minneapolis at the same time.

The response:  Visualizing Neighborhoods: a Hackathon for Good, sponsored by the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA) and Open Twin Cities.  It’s a day-long event designed to gather neighborhood leaders, technologists, data visualizers, designers, artists, scientists, civil servants, and others interested in resources and techniques for using data to create vital neighborhoods. Focus is on data for research, analysis, mapping, outreach, engagement and communication.

The day-long (9:00-5:30) event is at the Minneapolis Central Library, 300 Nicollet Mall.  Registration required – no registration fee.  Lunch will be available for registered attendees.

To register or to keep abreast of information and ideas as they develop, click on the event site:  http://visualizingneighborhoods.eventbrite.com.  The roster of attendees is lengthy, but planners advise those who may be interested to keep checking.