Since 2012, Northern Michigan book readers have exchanged reading materials through Little Free Libraries—miniature, street-side libraries that boast small catalogs of books freely available to passing bibliophiles. With a policy of “Take a Book, Return a Book,” the collections housed within Little Free Libraries comprise 20–30 books that are constantly changing. The Traverse Area District Library (TADL) sponsored Michigan’s first Little Free Library on Spruce Street in Traverse City in 2012, and more of these libraries have sprouted in several Northern Michigan towns, from Boyne City to Frankfort to paradisaical Power Island west of Old Mission Peninsula. MyNorth spoke with the TADL’s Kristen Talaga to learn more about how the Little Free Libraries have helped to build stronger communities and connect readers with one another under the Little Free Libraries’ tiny roofs.
How many Little Free Libraries are scattered across Northern Michigan?
Traverse City and Grand Traverse County have about 20 Little Free Libraries that are registered, and a few more that are unregistered that I’ve seen. Little Free Libraries can be registered through a non-profit organization in Wisconsin that started the libraries, and you pay 35 bucks and they’ll send you a little plaque with an official charter number. The Traverse Area District Library chose to sponsor the first Little Free Library in Traverse City—and we’ve sort of become the hub for questions about Little Free Libraries—because we thought they were a fun way to connect communities and readers. But you don’t have to be registered with the organization to have your own Little Free Library—it’s just fun to be part of a larger, nationwide community that’s connected through official Little Free Libraries.
What were people’s reaction to the first Little Free Library?
That first year we got so many calls from curious people. Some were a little worried—what if something happens, what if it gets damaged, what if people steal the books? The thing is, you can’t steal a free book. I haven’t heard of anything bad happening, and to do something really malicious, you’d have to be downright dirty.
There were also some people who thought it might hurt the public library’s circulation, but the Little Free Libraries are more about a community of individuals coming together to share what they love to read with one another. The public libraries offer a lot more—a Little Free Library will never have the selection or services that a library branch has. But they’re an extension of what a public library does. Yes, it’s about access to information and promoting literacy—but it’s really about a community coming together.
The fact that there are so many Little Free Libraries, and two independent bookstores downtown, and the National Writers Series, and the Children’s Book Festival…it’s all a representation of how much people value literacy in Traverse City.
Can you tell me about some of the Little Free Library projects that kids have tackled?
In the spring of 2013, the TADL teamed up with an Eagle Scout, Keegan Kaipio, who built five Little Free Libraries with funds from our marketing budget. We auctioned all five of them off, recouped the money spent, and the rest raised was allotted to TADL’s Teen Services. One of those five was donated to Power Island by a local attorney, Brace Kern.
Then this year, the East Bay branch worked with Twilight Rotary, East Bay Township and two residents, John and Molly McCombs, to have local Girl Scouts build six Little Free Libraries. They were then donated to different parks around East Bay. It’s been great for so many people to be connected by one little idea.