Little Free Libraries spread literacy and more

Tricia Peterson Washburn Review

A current program in Topeka is making it easier for Topekans to read by giving them easier access to used books. People can even drop off their own books, if they want, in the little house-shaped boxes found in various neighborhoods around town. This program, Little Free Library, Ltd., began in Wisconsin in 2009 as a way to build the community and promote literacy with free book exchanges within neighborhoods.

Kimberly and James Daugherty heard about the program and built one for their front yard. They liked the message the program was trying to spread and decided to participate. They didn’t know that it would take off like it did.

“It brings people together at the location in the neighborhood to talk,” said Kimberly Daugherty. “Instead of just rushing in and out of your house, you kind of start talking [to each other] about books and then you start talking about other things.”

Women Empowerment noticed the library and got in contact with the couple, asking them to build 20 more libraries for around Topeka. The non-profit organization has a reading program for at-risk teenage girls, meaning girls at risk for contracting HIV, teen pregnancy or not graduating high school. The group has found that the more they introduced young women to books, the more excited they became about college and taking care of themselves. This program would help do just that and bring the community together, as well.

“Our first idea was 20 but now we would like to do 50 because there are just so many neighborhoods that could really benefit from them,” said Daugherty.

This program also benefits the environment because it promotes the recycling of books and a place to get used books instead of buying new.

“It is green in that you are recycling your books instead of just throwing them away – you can just go in and take one for free and leave one for free,” said Daugherty. “The bottom shelf is all for kids books and the top shelf is for adult books. So it’s for all ages.”

They are also using as many recycled materials as they can, to build the little libraries. They encourage anyone who wants to donate materials to drop them off at their house, 5716 SW Westport Circle here in Topeka. This is where they build the libraries.

“If somebody wanted to volunteer to help build, we do build days where we get as many people that are interested as possible [in the summer] and then we set up like a Saturday where we pull everything out of our garage and people come and help us build and paint,” said Daugherty. “If students are interested in volunteering sometime, they can do that, too.”

Bita Givechi, a senior business marketing major at Washburn painted a box that is located at 225 SW Yorkshire Road. She worked for Safe Streets when they started the utility box painting program last summer and wasn’t ready for an entire utility box and figured the library would be a good starting point – and good for the community.

“Doing community art gives you ownership of your neighborhood or your community or wherever that box goes, so I made mine Kansas themed to try to tie it into local values and being proud of where you are from,” said Givechi.

She also felt that it was a great opportunity to make other people’s lives better even though she may not necessarily see it.

“It was a really cool opportunity to engage with people who I will probably never meet,” said Givechi. “Because they will be interacting with the box without me ever knowing and you never know how many people are touched by a book that comes from a stranger, so I just thought it was a really cool chance to do something like this.”

For more information or at the Women Empowerment website, womenempowermentks.org/Little-Free-Library.html. Check out their Facebook page facebook.com/LittleFreeLibrariesTopeka to keep updated on where they will be.

Saturday, April 13 they were at the Green Fair at Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library talking to people and spreading the word about their project. Upcoming is a rainbow Little Free Library to match the Equality House located at 1200 SW Orleans Street, referred to as the “Rainbow House” by some because it’s painted like a rainbow. To learn more about this and other things this organization is up to, like them on Facebook.