Book lovers and casual readers alike now have a new way to share and recycle old books, while picking up new titles for free.
The YMCA of Central Kentucky has opened three Little Free Library book exchange donation sites in Lexington and is encouraging community members to start their own donation sites in their neighborhoods, businesses or any place that could serve as an exchange site.
(Photos provided by Keene)
The idea took off when a YMCA board member received an article about the Little Free Library program and passed it along to Wendi Keene, executive director of community services for the Central Kentucky YMCA.
Keene then researched the libraries — which are small to medium-sized drop boxes mounted on posts where people can exchange an old book for a new one for free — to learn more about the program and put a committee together to look at possible locations and funding options.
The now international program, which was founded by Todd Bol and Rick Brooks in Wisconsin in 2009, is based on the “take a book, leave a book” concept. Today, an estimated 300 to 400 Little Free Libraries exist in 24 states and eight countries.
“Todd Bol – it was a a dedication to his mother when she passed. He started putting up these (Little Free Libraries) around his area where he lived. He started to push that out, and now, they’ve got hundreds of them all over the place,” Keene said.
As Keene looked further into the program, she found that Lexington did not have a single Little Library.
“There were a couple in Kentucky, but they were all in surrounding counties,” Keene said. “I’m thinking, ‘we’re not the best when it comes to literacy, so why don’t we try this.’”
Keene applied for a YMCA internal grant and was able to buy three Little Free Library drop boxes, she said. Bol and Brooks donated a fourth box, which will be placed at a location to be determined at a later date.
The three sites —Woodland Fire Station, Third Street Stuff, and the Legacy Trail at the North Lexington YMCA — are home to the Little Free Libraries. These locations will open officially on Tuesday, Aug.7, with a grand “book opening” at 1 p.m. at Third Street Stuff.
Keene’s son, Travis, an art studio student at the University of Kentucky, painted the Little Library at the Woodland Fire Station, and Pat Gerhard, owner of Third Street Stuff, painted the library at her shop.
“We wanted it to match her motif, because she has a certain flair,” Keene said of the Third Street Stuff library. All of the library boxes are customizable and can be crafted and decorated to fit certain themes or locales. (Click here to see photos of more customized libraries.)
While recently setting up the library at the Legacy Trail, Keene had an encounter that reiterated the need for the Little Libraries.
As she was filling the box with books, a man asked her if he could give her a hand and explained that he was in transition at the Hope Center, which is just down the street from the North Lexington YMCA, and was unable to check-out books from the library without a permanent address of his own.
“I asked him what he thought about the library, and he said he was so excited that there are books there,” Keene said, adding that many of the men from the Hope Center come to sit at the pavilion where the Little Free Library is located on breaks. “That was an added benefit…the Hope Center was a big bonus.”
The three existing libraries will serve “as a springboard” for others to open their own libraries, Keene said.
“We put these three out, and then we want the community to get involved. We want folks to want to put these in their neighborhoods, or a civic group wants to do it in one of the areas they are serving. There’s a ton of ways we want it to be done, but it’s going to be a community effort. It’s not a Y-thing — it’s a community thing.”
The grand “book opening” on Aug. 7 is open to the public and will include a book ribbon cutting ceremony, as well as a short reading. For more information about the Little Free Libraries, visit littlefreelibrary.org or contact Wendi Keene at 859-367-7326.