Batavia resident Samantha Mix can’t build a recreation center for her community, and she doesn’t own a business for the city to enjoy.
But, with the help of a newspaper box, she has found one way her family can contribute to the community: They’ve established a Little Free Library in their front yard.
“It is the best of what our family has to give,” Mix said.
Little Free Libraries are just that – little. Made of wood, recycled materials and old newspaper boxes, the libraries vary in theme and style – some look like barns, houses and schoolhouses – and they have no room for people.
Visitors are encouraged to take a book and contribute their own to the collection.
Todd Bol of Hudson, Wis., built the first Little Free Library about three years ago in honor of his mother, a school teacher who loved reading and children. He didn’t intend to build more, he said, but then he hosted a garage sale in which people kept walking up to the library and commenting on how cute it was.
“It reminded me of when people look at cute puppies or children,” Bol said.
With the help of a friend, the idea spread and was picked up by media outlets, Bol said. Now, hundreds of Little Free Libraries exist worldwide.
While Little Free Library celebrates libraries and the love of reading, the small libraries also have connected neighbors and community members with one another.
“Someone said to me, ‘It’s like having a front porch that extends always to the sidewalk,’ ” Bol said. “Gee, when people say to you, ‘I’ve met more people than I have in 20 years,’ that’s pretty magical.”
According to a map of registered Little Free Libraries in Illinois, libraries are in Chicago, Elgin, DeKalb, Glen Ellyn, Oak Park and Wheaton.
Many are at private residences, but others are outside community centers, such as the library behind the Congregational United Church of Christ at 40W451 Fox Mill Blvd. in Campton Hills.
John Campbell built the library on the request of the Rev. John Rodgers, who wanted the structure to fit in with the church. With that in mind, he sketched ideas and created a white, four-sided structure with a sloped tiled roof and a steeple on top.
The library fits with the church’s mission of striving to increase love for God and neighbor, Campbell said.
“From that standpoint,” he said, “I think people from the church have really embraced it.”
Before Mix’s family set up their library on the east side of Batavia about three months ago, they would make the Little Free Libraries a destination and incorporated them into their out-of-state travel plans.
“It doesn’t take much to get excited about a Little Free Library,” Mix said.
Now, her children – 9-year-old Rudy and 7-year-old Sasha – look forward to checking their yellow retrofitted newspaper box that is stocked with their old books and, as emotions allow, books from her late parents.
Mix enjoys seeing the varied titles and genres pass through the library. She said it has exposed her to titles and subjects she might have overlooked in a public library.
“We love our Little Free Library,” Mix said. “It’s an exciting family thing, one of the few things we can all agree on.”