Several years ago, Pekinites Suzanne Cook and Nancy Atkinson discovered Little Free Library.
Little Free Library is a non-profit organization dedicated to inspiring a love of reading, building community, and stimulating creativity through neighborhood book exchanges around the world.
“Being a daycare teacher for 25 years, I’d read hundreds and hundreds of books to children,” said Cook, steward of Little Free Library 5830. “I saw how important books are and I’m at a point in life where I have more time to read, so I love our Pekin Library. I thought, ‘Why not bring a little bit of that to my house?’”
There are between 35 and 40 books of various sizes in Cook’s Little Free Library. Her selection includes children’s books, romance novels, dramas, mystery and science fiction.
I have a little bit of everything, but because I was a daycare teacher for so many years, I have a lot of children’s books,” said Cook. “I try to read books before I put them in the Little Free Library, to make sure they’re in good taste. You can just take a book and I’m of the mindset that it’s very possible I’ll never see it again. That’s OK. I’ll just go get more.”
About the time she established her Little Free Library, Cook’s mother, Mary Jo Williams, passed away. Cook dedicated the library to her mother’s memory.
“In the last two years of her life, she rediscovered the joy of reading,” Cook said.
Atkinson decided to establish Little Free Library 3763 five years ago after she found the organization during a Google search for the Pekin Public Library.
“It intrigued me because I like to read and just about everyone in my family likes to read,” said Atkinson. “I researched it and decided to give it a try.”
After setting up her first Little Free Library, Atkinson discovered that it was not large enough to accommodate both adult and children’s books. She subsequently applied for and received charters to set up Little Free Libraries 14,000 and 60,477. She believes that Little Free Libraries have the advantage over traditional libraries of being open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
She also pointed out that Little Free Libraries are not a substitute for public libraries, but rather a supplement to them.
“Little Free Libraries will never replace the public library,” said Atkinson. “They could foster interest in public libraries by revealing a previously undiscovered love of reading.”
Atkinson and Cook stock their Little Free Libraries with books from sales at the Pekin Public Library and at events such as the Marigold Festival. As one would expect with a book exchange program, donations are an important part of keeping drop boxes filled.
“I appreciate people who donate books,” said Atkinson. “it’s important to keep a good variety on hand, and donors make that possible.”
The Little Free Library website https://littlefreelibrary.org/ contains plans for new libraries, ideas on how to create them and application forms for joining the program. There appears to be considerable design flexibility. According to Cook, a Little Free Library can be made of such household items as an old cabinet, or a soda machine.
“It just needs to be something that can be opened and hold books,” she said.
Both Cook and Atkinson have observed that Little Free Libraries not only promote literacy, but also bring people together.
”I’ve seen mothers walking with their children specifically to my cul-de-sac to get a book,” said Cook. "I’ve seen children come and get books. Some of them I know, and some of them I don’t. I set up a bench where they can sit and read books together.”
“I have met some very nice people since I set up my Little Free Libraries,” said Atkinson. “I think they’re good for the neighborhood.”
Little Free Libraries 3,763, 14,000 and 60,477 are located at 1301 Oak Ridge Ave., Pekin. Little Free Library 5,830 is located at 4 Brooklawn Court, Pekin.