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Free reads: Tiny libraries pop up around Janesville

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Marcia Nelesen
April 13, 2013

— Debra Sheen Horton’s whole neighborhood is enjoying her gift to herself.

Debra, 1215 Hawthorne Ave., heard about the Little Free Library movement on the radio. Debra works in Madison and started seeing the tiny structures pop up.

She bought one for herself as a present last summer when she thought her kids had forgotten her birthday, she recalled with a laugh. She added quickly that they hadn’t.

Little Free Libraries are sprouting up all over the state and around the world as a neighborly way to share a love of books.

Whoever groused about there being no free lunch hadn’t heard of the Little Free Library.

The movement began in Hudson when Todd Bol filled a miniature version of a one-room schoolhouse with books as a tribute to his mother, a teacher, stuck it on a post and offered the books to passersby.

Today, a website shows the locations of hundreds of tiny libraries around the world.

Two libraries are located in Janesville, and the Noon Lions Club plans to install two in parks or along the bike trail.

Debra figures about 300 books have rotated in and out of her library since she installed it July 9. People can return books, but they don’t have to. They also can add their own books to the mix.

Debra bought her library at a shop in Madison for about $300. It is about 5 feet tall, yellow and waterproof. She added shingles to the roof for a personal touch.

Debra’s husband, Bill, was installing the library in her yard when curious neighbor children wandered over. She immediately realized the pole was too high and so lowered it.

Her best customers have turned out to be children.

Debra occasionally stocks the library with books herself and is especially sure to include books for older elementary- and middle-school-aged children.

“They can come and get a book and don’t have to get someone to drive them to the library,” Debra said.

Sullivan Saliby, 11, who lives a couple of houses down, said he likes using the library because he can keep the books as long as he wants.

Debra doesn’t know how many people use the library but she knows it’s getting use because she reads the books herself. She sees when some are gone and others appear.

Debra admits being a bit chatty, but she tries not to speak to people using the library. She especially doesn’t want children to think they have to talk to her to read the books.

The Noon Lions Club plans to install several libraries in parks or along the bike trail, group member Al Bates said.

“We’ll start with one or two and see where it goes,” he said.

Patrice Groessel, 3259 Briar Crest Drive, and her husband installed a library in October 2011 in memory of her in-laws who were avid readers.

The world is complicated today with technology and computers, Patrice said.

“We just like the simplicity of sharing books with neighbors,” she said.

It’s also served as a good way to meet people.

The Groessels built their library from cedar and topped it with a tin roof. This summer they plan to add a bench nearby.

The libraries can have themes, and Patrice said hers is gardening, another pastime of her in-laws. Their theme is, “Books spread seeds of ideas,” she said.

The library is well used and has been fun, Patrice said.

“At first, people would walk by and wonder what it was,” she said.

“Now, it sort of takes care of itself. People fill it up, take a book and put books in.

“They’re enjoying it.”



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