by Ami Maxine Irmen
When I was a kid, I used to beg my parents to take me to the library pretty much every day. Of course, this wasn’t always possible despite their willingness to feed my book addiction. So when the city bookmobile started making a stop at the other end of our block, they were thrilled. I would walk down the block with my arms full of books and exchange them for another pile that I would haul back home. The driver and I were on a first name basis, and he would even take requests and bring books he thought I would enjoy.
These days, bookmobiles are a thing of the past. (Well, they still exist, but are few and far between). Life-sized libraries still exist, and the librarians who work there are still magicians – but not everyone has easy access to them.
Did you know that research shows that children who grow up without access to books are, on average, three years behind when starting school compared to those who had access? While libraries do amazing work to help bridge this gap, they can’t reach everyone.
With this year’s UntitledTown theme of community, we couldn’t possibly not talk about the man who made it his life’s work to get books into the neighborhoods (and hands) of those that didn’t have easy access to books and, in many cases, libraries. That man, from Hudson, WI, was Todd Bol. In 2009, he built a model of a one room schoolhouse, filled it with books, and placed it in his yard – providing 24/7 access to books to those in his neighborhood. People loved it so much that he made more and gave them away to this friends and family to set up in their own yards.
What started as a tribute to his mother, a teacher, quickly became an inspirational goal. Along with Rick Brooks from UW-Madison, Bol aspired to fund the creation of 2,508 Little Libraries by the end of 2013. They ended up achieving that goal a year and a half early, turning their work in a global book-sharing movement.
Though Bol passed away in October 2018 from complications of pancreatic cancer, the non-profit organization he launched remains active. In the days leading up to his death, he noted, “I really believe in a Little Free Library on every block and a book in every hand. I believe people can fix their neighborhoods, fix their communities, develop systems of sharing, learn from each other, and see that they have a better place on this planet to live.”
As of last year, a decade after Bol built and placed the first Little Library in his front yard, there are over 90,000 registered Little Libraries in over 90 countries.
Though he spent the last decade of his life as the creative force behind the Little Library movement, he was also a teacher, a lifelong entrepreneur, a father, and a husband. “He was the best, most generous, goofy, and kind person,” his son Austin noted. “He taught us to be kind to others. To many he was an innovator and genuine change maker. To us, he was dad. We will miss him always.”
Little Libraries can be found all over Green Bay – be sure to visit one or two (or three) while you’re in town April 23-26 for UntitledTown 2020. Also, be sure to check out where you can find Little Libraries near you. (You can also still visit the first library: 110 North St., Hudson, WI 54016; Lat: 44.98783 Long: -92.75851)
Last, be sure to check out Little Libraries, Big Heroes by award-winning author (and UntitledTown friend) Miranda Paul and illustrator John Parra.
“Todd and his friends love heroes. But in school, Todd doesn’t feel heroic. Reading is hard for him, and he gets scolded for asking too many questions. How will he ever become the kind of hero he admires?”