Little Free Libraries gain in popularity in Montclair
PHOTO BY ERIN ROLL/STAFF
By ERIN ROLL
There’s a special kind of library taking off in Montclair. You don’t have to pay late fees, and you don’t need a library card. The only caveat being, if you take a book, it’s nice to donate a book of your own.
Little Free Libraries, first started in 2009 in Wisconsin as a son’s tribute to his mother, are cropping up all over town. Todd Bol built several more for his neighbors to set up. Bol and Rick Brooks, who joined together to start the movement nationwide, were inspired by community gift-sharing networks, “take a book, leave a book” collections in coffee shops and public spaces, and most especially by the philanthropist Andrew Carnegie who created thousands of libraries across the United States.
Bol’s first little library was in the shape of a schoolhouse. The miniature house-shaped libraries have taken on many forms, inviting passers-by to take a book from one of the 75,000 set up worldwide.
Some of Montclair’s local library stewards find that the miniature libraries in their front yards are good for strengthening neighborhood bonds. There are five Little Free Libraries in Montclair that are officially listed on the Little Free Library website: littlefreelibrary.org.
LeAnne Korbel’s blue library, with a terra cotta-colored roof, has welcomed readers outside her home on Oakwood Avenue for four years. One of her neighbors moved to Massachusetts, found a Little Free Library near her new home, and told Korbel about it.
“I was like, I really want one of these,” Korbel said. She describes herself as an avid reader who loves to share books. “What better way than to put one in front of my house?” She asked for a Little Free Library for her birthday and had it installed.
A pre-fab Little Free Library can cost between $150 and $350, depending on the model. There are also plans and instructions available online for library stewards who want to build their own from scratch.
Korbel gets many new releases. Someone left a copy of Bob Woodward’s “Fear” in the library two days after the book was released.
The Montclair Public Library gave her a stack of copies of “Cheaper By the Dozen” during its community read in April, and Korbel put them in her library to circulate.
She also sees a lot of advance book copies placed in the library.
When Korbel’s friends travel, they will often take photos of Little Free Libraries they encounter and send them to her. And Korbel herself looks for libraries when she travels.
Her neighbors have been very enthusiastic about the library, and Korbel said one of her neighbors is now considering creating one.
St. Luke’s Church has a three-deck library near its driveway on Union Street. It’s painted green and purple, with a shake roof and has three glass doors to keep out the elements.
Watchung School also has one of its own by the sidewalk facing the school’s main entrance on Garden Street. On the side of the library, students have written the names of books they’ve read them and the year.
Mary Beth Weil had a Little Free Library installed at her home on Fairfield Street last year. Weil’s father, Doug Hall, passed away in 2016. Hall had been an avid reader. History and the military were among his favorite subjects, and he enjoyed gardening and building things.
Weil set up a Little Free Library in her father’s memory.
The mint-green library has heavy traffic, as it’s near Watchung Plaza shops, the train station, Watchung School and Watchung Field.
Notes and vases of flowers are left in the library on occasion. And friends and neighbors bring over bags of books to add to the library, Weil said.
Sometimes the books come in “waves” of subject matter. She’s seen a lot of books on parenting and breastfeeding, a hint that parents may be offloading parenting books as their children grow up. Other times she’s seen lots of middle-grade and YA fiction.
“I have been absolutely overjoyed with the turnover of books. It’s never empty,” she said.