Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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Little library a neighborhood bookend

by John Halverson

July 11, 2013

LAURIE SCHINKER has a free library on the corner of Spring and Waverly streets in Lake Geneva.John Halverson/Regional News.
A stack of books was piled on the wood table of Laurie Schinker's porch.

Laurie and a friend had just been at a rummage sale, where they'd acquired the latest additions to Laurie's corner library, which is a box full of books at the corner of Spring and Waverly streets in Lake Geneva.

In each book they were affixing a book plate that says "Always A Gift. Never For Sale," and the words, "Little Free Library."

This time many of the books were for children, so we started talking about our favorites as a child.

Laurie's friend mentioned Nancy Drew.

I said "The Hardy Boys."

"I loved the Hardy Boys so much, that I made myself stop reading them so I wouldn't read to the end of the series. How's that for kid logic?"

For Laurie, her childhood inspiration came from a teacher and a librarian, Mrs. Bray, at the Elkhorn library.

Her teacher would read her part of a story every day.

"And I couldn't wait until the next day to hear the rest of the story," Laurie mused.

On the porch with us was Laurie's husband, Jim, and their dog Holly who seemed to enjoy the activity as much as anyone.

Laurie got the idea for the Little Free Library after watching a TV program on this national movement last Labor Day weekend.

Her son-in-law made the box for the library; her daughter decorated it with quotes. And Laurie has a certificate that declares that she has a "Little Free Library of Distinction," according to the Little Free Library organization.

It goes on to say that the award was "due to its unique design, creative outreach to friends and neighbors and the enthusiasm of its stewards and patrons."

The library offers free books with the understanding that you either pass the book along to someone or return with another book to take its place.

I borrowed "The Pilot's Wife" and acted as many people do — a little queasy at taking someone else's property.

Laurie assured me it was alright — in fact it was the purpose — of her little corner library, just as she has assured others with the same feeling. Apparently, in this me-first, ownership driven society, borrowing with responsibility isn't a natural instinct.

I promised to bring another book back. Laurie said she had enough books for now, but I assured her anyway. That feeling of responsibility will remain in the back of my mind until I do.

"One very quiet little boy comes up on his bicycle just about every day," she said.

A group of kids came up on bikes and skateboards while Laurie was stocking shelves. They were too shy to come closer without an invitation —- so amazed that someone would be giving something away.

Besides children's books, there are cookbooks and gardening books and adult fiction.

The day I first visited there were books by John Grisham, Garrison Keillor and Nora Roberts. But they might not be there today. Circulation varies.

I don't want to make too much of a little corner library, but it's a start, a seed on several levels.

To me, Laurie's library is a perfect book end to any block, a destination for any neighborhood. In fact such destinations are one of the elements of a good neighborhood — places where people gather, and that's just what's happened.

"It's created quite a stir in the neighborhood," Laurie said. "The enthusiastic response has been wonderful."

Both of us are pleased that it might create or recreate the love of books — Laurie's self-admitted obsession since youth.

But it may stretch beyond that — to the lost meaning of neighborhoods.

As that certificate of recognition put it, the Little Free Library movement is made up of "people who support a sense of community, reading for children, literacy for adults and libraries across the world "

Neighborhoods were once places where people lived for decades, commiserated over the back fence and borrowed back and forth.

In this day of fear and cultural distance, we all need an excuse to talk to strangers.

A meeting place, a conversation point, can splinter ethnic, socio-economic and other differences and mitigate the fear of the unknown.

Those are lessons preached in books brought to the forefront by little realities like Laurie Schinker's corner library.

The Little Free Library

Is this just Pollyannaish bunk?

Not based on the global — yes, global — response.

All 50 states and 40 countries worldwide have been involved in the literary program. There are currently 6,000 to 7,000 registered Little Free Libraries in the world; 40 in Ghana alone.

The Little Free Library idea started in Hudson, Wis., in 1969 when Todd Bol mounted a wooden container designed to look like a school house on a post.

At least 1,650,000 books have been donated and borrowed says their website — though Laurie asked how they could keep track. Perhaps, the specifics aren't as important as the generalization — the book project has taken flight.

As Little Free Library's website notes "If this were just about providing free books on a shelf, the whole idea might disappear after a few months. Little Free Libraries have a unique, personal touch and there is an understanding that real people are sharing their favorite books with their community. These aren't just any old books, this is a carefully curated collection and the Library itself is a piece of neighborhood art!"

For more information and some great pictures of other free libraries, see

Halverson is editor and general manager of the Regional News.