A Silver Beach woman who loves reading almost as much as she loves her community has established Milford’s first Little Free Library at the corner of East Broadway and Surf Avenue.
If you haven’t noticed the new library, you aren’t going slow enough or thinking small enough.
The Little Free Library, a mere 16” x 19” x 23”, is mounted on a fencepost behind Kate DeBernardino’s home, and it’s just one way she has been working to enhance a sense of community and connection in her neighborhood.
So what is a Little Free Library? Essentially, it’s a covered bookcase — this one shaped like a miniature house with a glass front door — that is chock full of donated books that are free to take. The only condition is that if you take a free book, you try to return a book for others to read. The library is waterproof and unlocked, and at last glance boasted up to 20 books with authors as diverse as Ken Follett and Judy Blume. There are books for children and adults alike.
The concept of the Little Free Library began in 2009 when a Hudson, Wisconsin man, Todd Bol, built a model of a one-room schoolhouse as a tribute to his mother, a former school teacher who loved reading. Bol filled the schoolhouse with books, mounted it on a post in his yard, and put a sign on it, “Free Books.” He made others and gave them away to friends, before being joined in the venture by his friend, Rick Brooks.
The founders’ mission was to promote literacy and a love of reading worldwide, and to build a sense of community.
The first Little Free Library outside of Hudson, Wisconsin was posted on a bike path on the east side of Madison in 2010. Today, there are 15,000 Little Free Libraries worldwide in such far-flung places as Pakistan, Australia, Brazil, the Philippines and Iceland. There are 28 in Connecticut, including the first that DeBernardino registered in Milford.
“I have this constant excitement of people being so excited about Little Free Library,” said co-founder Todd Bol, about the explosion of his venture. “I think everyone should be involved in something really hot at least once in their lives, particularly if it’s a non-profit like ours.”
Bol attributes the success of the Little Free Library to the fact that, around the world, it’s a “hyper-local” movement that unites neighbors. We know we feel safer and better about life when we know each other and share with one another.”
Despite its worldwide presence, DeBernardino said, “I’d never heard of a Little Free Library until my sister-in-law sent an article and said ‘this has you written all over it’. She was right: It seemed like a great way not only to encourage reading, but also to build a sense of community and connection.”
DeBernardino checked out the Little Free Library website, littlefreelibrary.org, for instructions on how to start a library, and how to officially register it. People who register their Little Free Library are known as “stewards.”
She learned that building your own Little Free Library can cost from $15 to $150, excluding installation costs. Some people keep costs lower by using re-purposed items like toolboxes, microwaves or old cabinets.
But to DeBernardino, the idea of installing a waterproof pre-fabricated Little Free Library was more appealing. Excluding installation, cost for the pre-fabricated libraries range from $192 for basic models to nearly $1,000 for the ornate National Book Award Special Edition Library. For all stewards, there is an additional one-time cost of $34.95 to register the Little Free Library and obtain the official signage.
DeBernardino said she asked for, and received, her Little Free Library as a gift last Christmas and completed installation in late February or early March. She filled the library with books, and since then users have kept it well stocked.
“The reception has been absolutely great,” said DeBernardino. “From my home, I see people pulling up in cars, leaving a book and taking a book. Neighborhood teenagers have come by to sit in my yard and look through books. Sometimes people leave notes in the library with their opinions on various books, or just a note of thanks. Even young children come by.”
DeBernardino believes she has instilled a love of reading in her own two children but, more importantly, she hopes her Little Free Library shows them by example that giving back to the community should never stop.
One longtime resident of the Silver Beach neighborhood, Marcia Ziebell, had nothing but praise for the ways that DeBernardino gives to the community.
“This is really the perfect neighborhood for a Little Free Library,” Ziebell said. “The Silver Sands/East Broadway area has become a major exercise thoroughfare. This is a great opportunity for people to read the most up-to-date books for free, or without having to wait for them to become available through a public library.”
But Ziebell noted that Kate DeBernardino enhances the neighborhood in other ways, too.
“She also has a wonderful garden. About two weeks ago, she put out baskets filled with black eyed Susans and a sign inviting people to take what they wanted for free,” Ziebell said, noting that she enjoyed a handful of flowers in her own home. “That was so nice, aside from the Little Free Library.”
The Director of the Milford Public Library, Christine Angeli, echoed the high praise for the Little Free Libraries, and for the people who install them.
“This is a nice enhancement to our traditional types of services,” Angeli said. “It’s a great idea that helps you connect more with your neighbors. The Little Free Library localizes access to books where people might not have easy access. And it’s free with no strings attached which, I think, is very welcoming.
“The Libraries are so serendipitous,” Angeli added. “After people get over the initial surprise of seeing a Little Free Library, I think it just makes people happy. And the unexpected gift of literacy and entertainment really is a great community service.”