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Our Little Free Libraries

Little Free Libraries in McHenry County and beyond are all about thinking outside of the box by thinking inside of the box.

In 2009, Todd Bol of Hudson, Wis. – inspired by his mother, a schoolteacher and avid reader – built a box in the shape of a schoolhouse, mounted it on a post in his front yard, and filled it with books so his friends and neighbors could help themselves to a book.

There are now more than 15,000 Little Free Libraries like Bol’s worldwide with more being built every day.

Our Area’s First Little Free Library

The story of how Little Free Libraries grew in McHenry County begins with Suzanne Gooding of rural Garden Prairie, Ill. (just west of Marengo). She read an article about Bol’s library in On Wisconsin, a magazine of the Wisconsin Alumni Association. When she shared the story with her husband, David (photo, above), a woodworker, he used his carpentry skills to duplicate the box. Their efforts gave rise to the first Little Free Library available to residents of Boone, McHenry and neighboring counties.

“Dave and I talked about it and thought it was a very good idea, but we also thought that our yard would not be a good location because a nearby hill limits visibility of our driveway,” Suzanne said.

With permission of the farmer who owns the land, David installed his Little Free Library on the northwest corner of Kishwaukee Valley and Garden Prairie roads, about three quarters of a mile south of the family’s residence.

little free library
Amy Hodgson, Geno Nicholas and Kay Shackelford with Kay’s Little Free Library located in Cary.

Finding Treasures in Cary

Kay Shackelford, Cary resident, heard about the Little Free Library concept from her sister who lives in Kenosha, Wis. Shackelford thought it was such a good idea she asked her boyfriend, Geno Nicholas (photo, above, middle), if he would build one that they could mount in her side yard.

“When I leave a book I’m always excited about somebody finding the book, because that’s how I feel. It’s always like finding a treasure.”

“I started with some plans from the Little Free Library website, but I wound up building to dimensions that I thought would be the right size,” Nicholas said. “My goals were to make it unique, attractive and weatherproof. We installed it last summer, so it had to survive last year’s winter. It did that quite well, so think I accomplished at least my weatherproofing goal.”

The library is located at 902 Elden Drive.

“I think Little Free Library promotes community and sharing and – being an active reader myself – I like the idea of promoting reading,” Shackelford added. “Our community library is located right around the corner from us, but this is really a different thing. [It provides] an opportunity to share with the community on a personal basis. That was the driving force for me.”

“I first noticed Kay’s Little Free Library last fall,” said patron Amy Hodgson. “I live just a around the block and go for walks regularly. I knew what it was right away because I had read an article about little free libraries in a magazine. Kay has a very eclectic selection of books.

“Sometimes I’ll just take a book,” she added. “Today, I came to drop off a book because I didn’t bring one the other night. I think I stop at least once a week. When I leave a book I’m always excited about somebody finding the book, because that’s how I feel. It’s always like finding a treasure.”

“A Great Concept” Comes to Crystal Lake

McHenry County’s newest Little Free Library stewards, Jill and Larry May, live just west of downtown Crystal Lake at 115 Elmhurst St. They were turned onto Little Free Libraries while visiting Madison, Wis.

“We were there one weekend and I saw what I thought at first was a large bird house in front of somebody’s yard,” May said. “I asked my husband to stop because I wanted to look at it. We got out of the car and found our first Little Free Library. The structure, being located in a small garden, was quite lovely. I thought, ‘What a great concept.’”

On the back roads heading home from Madison, the Mays also happened upon the Goodings’ Little Free Library. “When we got home, I contacted [David] through information on the Little Free Library website,” Jill said. “I learned he built his own library and asked if he could build one for us. He not only did so but delivered it – ready to be painted – to our door last fall.”

The Mays hope others follow their lead. “We wanted to be part of this grassroots movement, so I’d be very happy if others were inspired by our library enough to put one in their own yard,” Larry said.

“All Kinds of Books Appear”

So how does Little Free Libraries work? Once the library is built, stewards generally begin stocking them with books they’ve read and are ready to share, but most find that their libraries self-generate a supply of books in time.

“We filled up the first time with books that Suzanne or I had read,” David said. “These were mostly hardbound novels. It wasn’t full when we first put it up, but a few days after it was installed the lady who delivers our mail mentioned she dropped off a few books. Then the mother of our neighbor gave us books to put in when she heard about it. After that a number of books just appeared in the library. Every time friends or family hear about the library, they donate books. All kinds of books appear.”

The Goodings originally thought it would work like a library where people would take a book out and then return it. They found, however, that although there are very few returns, their library is always full because there are so many other books being brought in exchange for books being taken.

Shakelford has had a similar experience. “I always have a lot of extra paperback books, so I started with them,” she said. “Geno brought me some of his, and of course people trade books. I’m always surprised to see the new book titles that appear out there. My biggest surprise was that children’s books were very popular. I had some left over from my grandchildren, which I put out there. They went very quickly. I find that I need to find a supply of books written in Spanish.”

Little Free Library at Oakwood Hills' North Beach.
Little Free Library at Oakwood Hills’ North Beach.

Where to “Borrow a Book, Share a Book” 

Cary: 902 Elden Drive; Oakwood Hills: North Beach; Cary Park District Community Center, 255 Briargate Road.

Crystal Lake: 115 Elmhurst St.;127 College St.; 1420 Trailwood Drive; CLPD Nature Center, 330 N. Main St.; Crystal Lake Main Beach, 300 Lake Shore Drive; corner of Dole Avenue and Oak Street.

Garden Prairie: Northwest corner of Kishwaukee Valley and Garden Prairie roads.

Hebron: The Dari, 10011 Main St.

Lakewood: Mularz Family Library, 494 Richmond Lane (on Lakewood bike path).

Union: 1895 West Harmony School/McHenry County Historical Society & Museum, 6422 Main St., Union.

Woodstock: Wicker Street.

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