After the bus drops her off from school, London Branch, 5, runs to her Little Free Library box to look for a new book.
“It is almost like a treasure box, you never know what you are going to discover,” said Fernando Branch, London’s father.
Rewind to spring break 2016. Fernando, a principal at Noel Community Art School, decided to spend his weeklong break to complete a project with his daughters that would benefit the community.
Despite the cold weather and 1-year-old daughter Lauren’s persistence in stealing the wood glue, Fernando and his family built their Little Free Library and put it up in front of their home on South Madison Circle in Centennial in mid-January.
Building the box is a memory he will always have with his daughters, Fernando said. London adores keeping track of what is new. For both of his daughters, their favorite book found in their library, so far, has been “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle.
“She runs over there to see if someone has put something in there that she wants,” Fernando said. “I love to see that it started an enthusiasm for reading in her.”
Fernando also is excited about the response from his neighbors.
“While I was out there with the girls measuring, people would stop and ask what we were doing,” Fernando said. “It started so many conversations.”
Conversations at the box go beyond a friendly “hello.” He finds the Little Free Library to be a way for people to learn about the diversities found in his own neighborhood. He believes it brings people together with similarities.
“When we engage in these projects with our families, it encourages the American values that we share,” Fernando said. “The core of reading is education. As a society, we are really quick to point out the differences of us all. But if we focus on the love of the things we share in common, like the love to read and educate ourselves — that is a unifier.”
The Little Free Library is, at its core, a small-scale neighborhood book exchange. A structure sheltering between 20 to 60 books is built or purchased by a community member and planted in the community.
Whoever comes across a Little Free Library is welcome to either take a book or leave a book. Margret Aldrich, media and programming director at the Little Free Library nonprofit organization, based in Hudson, Wisconsin, said the library becomes self-sustaining.
All family-friendly reading materials are welcome in the exchange. Self-help, Westerns, science fiction, picture books and many more genres are encouraged to circulate through the libraries.
The first Little Free Library was built in Hudson, Wisconsin, in 2009 by Tod Bol in tribute to his book-loving mother. The Little Free Library became a nonprofit in 2012.
The little library trend has grown to 50,000 set-ups in 50 states and in 70 countries. Colorado is home to more than 600 Little Free Libraries. According to Aldrich, the libraries become community hubs.
There is no style guide dictating the appearance of a Little Free Library. Though the usual structure resembles a birdhouse or a dollhouse, people are encouraged to be creative. There are Little Free Libraries that are brightly painted or shaped like robots, police-call boxes, whales, log cabins and rowboats.
A $40 registration fee puts the library on the website’s official community map and database. The company sends an official “Little Free Library” sign and an information and resource packet.
The trend also helps the homeless, who may not have access to books at conventional libraries because they have no address, Aldrich said.
Love at first sight
Five years ago, Todd Walsh, his wife and their two daughters spent a vacation visiting friends. During a walk, they discovered a Little Free Library. The family instantly fell in love with the idea.
Three summers later, Walsh was hammering the nails into his own Little Free Library for his home on West Applewood Knolls Drive in Lakewood.
“Where we live in Lakewood, our house is right on the corner and it is a popular route to a park,” Walsh said. “We have a lot of foot traffic.”
The Slater Elementary School teacher only had time to work on the project while his daughters Maya, 6, and Nora, 4, were napping.
While working on the project, Walsh’s neighbor walked across the street to see what was going on. The two discussed the Little Free Library and decided that their neighborhood needed not one, but two of the book hubs. Walsh completed both projects after a month of work. One is dedicated solely to housing children’s books while the other, directly across the street, holds books for teen and adult readers.
“It has been amazing and we have loved it,” Walsh said. “It has been a great way for us to meet people. It is a great conversation starter. We watch from the windows and love seeing families on bike rides stop and take books.”
Walsh did not stop building at two little libraries. The Slater Elementary sixth-graders, as a tradition, leave a contribution to their school before advancing to middle school. They commissioned Walsh in 2016 to make a Little Free Library for the school.
To this day, passersby knock on Walsh’s door and ask him about the little library outside his home. Many people ask him to make a little library for their neighborhoods miles away.
“It really is a conversation starter,” Walsh said. “Normally someone might say ‘hello,’ but now we have gotten to know so many of our neighbors because we have something to talk about.”