In an age when digital media seems to be taking over our daily lives, it is refreshing to see a movement toward community take hold. I stumbled upon my first Little Free Library quite by accident when I drove past it one afternoon. I had seen one on Pinterest and read about one in a blog, but I had never seen one in person, let alone knew any existed in Bakersfield. So I decided to investigate further and found out there are several in town, and the number just keeps growing.
According to their website, littlefreelibrary.org, the project was started in 2009 by Todd Bol of Hudson, Wis. He built a replica of a one-room schoolhouse as a tribute to his mother, a former school teacher, who loved reading. He filled it with books and put it on a post in his front yard with a sign that said "Free Books." His friends and neighbors loved the idea, and it took off from there.
There are currently 4,000 libraries registered on the site, though they estimate there are more than 15,000 in 50 countries. If you want your library added to their map, you can request a steward packet and a charter sign from the website.
Bakersfield currently has seven libraries on the LFL map, but there are actually more than that in existence.
Milena Nord read about the idea on a children's blog and was fascinated, so her husband surprised her and built one for her birthday. She dedicated it to her parents, who instilled in her a love of reading. She shares that love with her own four children, who enjoy helping her restock their library
Although her husband used the plans on the LFL site as a guideline, their library is uniquely their own. They used recycled materials and tried to make it look a little bit like their own house. The door is an old picture frame; they used pieces of a Kern County Museum yard stick in the walls; and spelled out the word R-E-A-D in Scrabble tiles. As finishing touches, her daughters created a pennant flag to decorate the front and made the handwritten sign that reads "Take A Book, Leave A Book." Their library features children's titles.
"It's been a really neat thing overall; we've met lots of neighbors," said Nord. "We did this for the fun interactions and just to know that people are enjoying it. We see families out walking who stop with their children to pick a book."
A former teacher, Nord said the highlight of her day was reading aloud to her students.
"I would love to see more and more of the (libraries) pop up around Bakersfield. I love the idea that if you're on a road trip, you can look it up online and find one. I'm thinking of it from a kid's perspective. It's one of those things I wish had been around when I was young."
Downtown resident Linda Sullenger rarely sees anyone take the books from her little library, but she knows there's turnover because the books in her box are always changing.
"I have quite a wide variety of books," said Sullenger of her library. She makes sure to include children's books, but also has historical books, women's novels, best-sellers and whatever else might find its way into the box.
Sometimes a neighbor will drop a few books off, and Sullenger always adds the latest selection from her book club once she's finished reading it. Her library was designed by good friend and local builder Paul Miller, then painted by her and dedicated to longtime friend and late neighbor Wendy Wayne. It is one in a group of libraries built in Wayne's honor.
Susan Reep went above and beyond building her own little library.
She started a whole network of libraries as a tribute to Wayne, her best friend and neighbor of 30 years. The two met at a Peace Corps party in the '70s and became fast friends.
"Wendy had a way of getting under your skin and becoming your conscience," Reep said.
"She was always trying to get me involved in the community, so after she passed away and I retired, I knew I'd have to do something."
Wendy's Words Libraries feature a placard honoring Wayne, and each book placed inside includes a bookplate with quotes from the late community activist. There are currently 11 Wendy's Words Libraries in Bakersfield and more in progress.