Vickroy: Neighbors connect through book nook
Among the lilies, daisies and hostas that blanket the Humiston family’s front yard stands a gleaming wooden box with a clear glass door.
It beckons passers-by to pause, wonder and peek inside, where they’re sure to find mystery, humor, adventure and all kinds of characters.
Inside they find books. All sorts of books. And those books are free for the taking.
Rich and Debbie Humiston opened their Little Free Library in October.
“On Halloween, we gave out candy and fliers explaining what the library is all about,” Debbie said.
What it’s all about is encouraging reading, as well as friendship, Rich said. “When we first learned of this idea, we fell in love with it.”
Across the country, and indeed around the world, Little Free Libraries are connecting people with people, in that old-fashioned face-to-face way that involves talking, laughing and sharing.
The libraries invite readers, young and old, to take a book, enjoy it, and then return it or pass it on.
“No library cards, no specific hours, no late fees,” Debbie adds. “Anybody can come and take a book. There’s no sign-out policy. You don’t have to leave a book, but you can.”
And the hope is that, every now and then, you will. Though Little Free Libraries are located at people’s homes, the expectation is that they will be tended to by the community, with people trading books that are interesting and engaging. And who doesn’t like to share a good book?
The Little Free Library was started in 2009 in Wisconsin by Todd Bol as a way to memorialize his late mother — a teacher and avid reader. In the last two years, nearly 1,800 library stewards have registered their cabinet-size athenaeums across the nation and in dozens of countries, including England, Mexico and Uganda.
The Humiston’s New Lenox library is the first in that village and the first in the south suburbs, but you can find other Little Free Libraries in Bolingbrook, Oak Park, Wheaton and all over Chicago.
When the Humistons and their two teenage children, Rose and Dylan, first read about the program in a newspaper article, they immediately downloaded the instructions.
To become a steward, they paid $25 to the Little Free Library, which is a nonprofit organization, for a sign and a number. They also received stickers, which they place inside the books, and fliers. The website features a locator map of all the Little Free Libraries around the world. Patrons are invited to stop by any of the locations when they’re in the neighborhood. Some of the libraries are maintained by schools or other groups.
Rich, who works for Sherwin Williams, hired a cabinetmaker to build their library.
“I was just going to paint it, but when I saw the quality of the work, I decided to stain it instead,” Rich said.
They installed the library in front of their home in the 2100 block of Finborough Circle.
Since then, lots of neighbors have stopped to take a book and chat a bit. “We met the new people around the corner,” Debbie said.
Jennifer Reyes and her five children are frequent patrons. “I just live around the block, so this is very convenient,” she said. She recently took a book by Bill Cosby.
“I like that there are no due dates,” Reyes said. “With five kids, it’s hard for me to keep up with those kinds of things. But I love to read.”
Debbie said she tries to keep a variety in the box, some children’s books, some aimed for more advanced readers. Mysteries are popular, so is science fiction.
She is mindful to provide seasonal and holiday-specific materials, too, filling the box with cookbooks and craftbooks at Christmas and gardening books now that summer is here.
Some people, Debbie said, have a theme to their libraries, such as health and wellness. Some libraries have spawned book clubs.
Debbie mostly stocks it with used paperbacks she buys at the New Lenox Public Library.
Summer, Debbie said, will be the big test. The Humistons are hoping the neighborhood embraces their library by frequenting it and restocking it.
“So far, we’ve been pretty happy with it,” Debbie said. “People have been respectful and appreciative.”
And while no one has come forward with a request yet, there have been clues.
“There was one little boy who stopped and was looking at books about the solar system,” Rich said. “He was wearing a (Disney) ‘Cars’ helmet. Now I’m gonna look for some ‘Cars’ books.”
Rich hopes to make the library even more inviting by putting a bench under a nearby tree.
Find out more about the Little Free Library at www.littlefreelibrary.org/