By Jeremy Ogul | Editor
The San Diego Public Library branches in Allied Gardens and San Carlos have long been anchors of the community in the Navajo area, but several new libraries have emerged over the past couple years.
You may not have noticed them unless you live down the street — most of them take up no more than two or three square feet. Known as Little Free Libraries, they resemble birdhouses or oversized mailboxes and are usually placed in front yards and maintained by the homeowner.
They function on a “take a book, leave a book” honor system — anyone is free to borrow a book, and there’s no requirement to return that exact book at any point. Neighbors are encouraged to share their favorite books with the neighborhood by placing them in the Little Free Library. Because of this system, the collection changes every day.
Janet Mika is the steward of the Madra Dog Little Free Library on Madra Avenue in Del Cerro.
“It encourages people to read, and we’re all about that,” Mika said. “It’s kind of a cool neighborhood thing.”
The library is named after Madra Dog, an eccentric statue of a Rottweiler whose wardrobe changes frequently. Mika’s brother, Rick Albin, built the library out of an old wine refrigerator. Neighbors young and old stop nearly every day to take a book or leave a book.
“I’ve seen a lot of parents with children stop by,” Albin said. “If there’s children’s books in there, they don’t last long.”
But it’s more than just books for kids, Mika said.
“It’s a really rich mixture of every genre — fiction, history, cooking, weight loss,” she said.
Mika said she lucked out recently when her book club was reading “The Boys in the Boat” by Daniel James Brown.
“I went down and there it was!” she said.
The official Little Free Library website lists six registered libraries in the area: three in Del Cerro and three in San Carlos.
Janet Burgess and her husband, John, set up their Little Free Library on Lake Lucerne Drive last December. It is painted to match the trim on their house and includes a water bowl and treats for dogs. Ever since they set up their library, they have met and interacted with the many neighbors who stop by to check out books.
“We meet all kinds of people,” Burgess said. “We love it.”
Just around the corner is the Lake House Library, which was established by Suzanne Fisher four months ago on Blue Lake Avenue. It serves as a tribute to Fisher’s late father, Ramon Ross, who was a professor in the College of Education at San Diego State University.
“He loved books and writing and reading,” Fisher said.
When Ross fell ill last year, Fisher introduced him to the Little Free Library concept and asked him to build her one as a birthday present, “partly to distract him from being in the hospital, which he hated,” Fisher said.
When Ross was well enough to leave the hospital, he gathered the materials and started building the fixture from repurposed wood. Ross died unexpectedly before he could see the library completed, but Fisher’s family helped finish and install the library. It opened in April and has been active ever since.
“It’s a bigger success than I hoped it would be,” Fisher said. “I love when people stop and tell me how much they love it or leave notes in the logbook — it really does feel like a tribute to my dad.”
Fisher’s story is surprisingly similar to the story of the original little free library. According to the Little Free Library website, the movement began in Wisconsin in 2009 when Todd Bol built a miniature model of a one-room schoolhouse in honor of his late mother, a former teacher who loved to read. Bol stocked the little schoolhouse with books and mounted it on a post with a sign that read “FREE BOOKS” in his front yard, delighting his neighbors and friends.
Bol soon got together with Rick Brooks, a University of Wisconsin Madison instructor who specializes in community development and social enterprises.
“I’m always looking for manageable projects that connect people on a personal level to where they live,” Brooks said in a 2012 interview with OnWisconsin Magazine. “What’s better than books?”
Bol and Brooks built 30 Little Free Libraries in 2010 and distributed them to neighbors and friends in their community. From there, the movement spread organically. Inspired by Andrew Carnegie’s philanthropic effort to establish more than 2,500 free public libraries around the turn of the 20th century, Bol and Brooks set a goal to establish 2,510 Little Free Libraries. They reached that goal in August 2012; there are now nearly 30,000 Little Free Libraries all over the world.
To find a Little Free Library near you, visit littlefreelibrary.org.
—Write to Jeremy Ogul at email@example.com.