Tiny, free libraries have big impact in Kokomo

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KOKOMO, Ind. (AP) — During a recent visit to Studebaker Park, Leadership Kokomo Director Sharon Reed Corbett was reminded the impact of the organization's yearly projects isn't always apparent.

Reed Corbett was talking to a woman about the new Little Free Library Leadership Kokomo had helped erect in the neighborhood.

The freestanding wooden libraries resemble an oversized birdhouse. Anyone can stop by, take a book and return it. They are stocked with reading materials supplied by community sponsors. It's is a gesture small in stature, Reed Corbett said, but one that can have a significant impact.

"Sometimes you do things for the community and don't realize what the people in those communities really feel about it," Reed Corbett told the Kokomo Tribune (http://bit.ly/1yAfBV9 ), recalling the emotional conversation with the woman from the neighborhood. "This lady was saying that she was so grateful that we put the library in her neighborhood and that she felt we were looking after them."

Little Free Libraries aim to do just that. Three new structures recently were added to Kokomo at Cutler Park, Studebaker Park and Columbian School at the site of the Crossing Educational Center.

Little Free Libraries were established in 2009 by Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin, who built a model of a one-room schoolhouse as a tribute to his mother, a former school teacher who loved reading. He filled it with books and put it on a post in his front yard.

Establishing Little Free Libraries in Kokomo has been a Leadership Kokomo team project, with help from First Church of the Nazarene in building the structures. Many in the community might be aware of another Little Free Library on East Sycamore Street outside of Kokomo resident Melanie Waggoner's home, which was erected in June. Libraries contain anywhere from 20 to 100 books.

The goal is to provide under-resourced areas with access to reading materials, Kokomo-Howard County Public Library Director Faith Brautigam said.

"It will help improve the quality of life for students who lack reading materials at home, families with limited transportation, and those who need to practice reading," she said. "Little Free Libraries send a message that Kokomo values learning, we trust each other, reading is fun and we share."

The libraries were made possible through a partnership between Leadership Kokomo and the Kokomo Parks and Recreation Department, which provided ideal locations for the structures. Funding for the libraries was provided by a $1,500 grant from the Duke Energy Foundation.

Each of the new libraries has been "adopted" by local organizations, which will maintain the structures and keep them stocked with books.

The children's ministry of First Church of the Nazarene Church will maintain the library at Cutler Park, while the Kokomo Housing Authority will provide upkeep for the structure at Studebaker Park. Students from the Crossing Education Center will maintain the Columbian School site.

Jason Hoffer, a member of Leadership Kokomo and First Church of the Nazarene, said the new Little Free Libraries are the result of collaboration between 15 area organizations.

"It's another way to help strengthen the community," Hoffer said. "As much as we love traditional libraries, there are children who don't have a ride to the public library. We know there are barriers for a lot of people, so we purposely tried to go to the neighborhoods where the barriers might be greater."

Supplementing materials found at local library branches is one of the biggest benefits of the Little Free Libraries. The little boxes aren't seen as a competitor to local libraries, Brautigam said.

"One of the things the public often assumes is that we only want people to read or use library materials," she said. "That's not true. This is another way to help strengthen the community and a complimentary addition to our mission."

Brautigam and Hoffer were joined by team members Tiffany Massey of Haynes International and Tyler Corn of Ivy Tech Community College in coming up with the project.

Hoffer said he hopes the libraries will serve as a reminder of the positive impact community service can have.

"The Little Free Libraries are an example of our community coming together in a practical and tangible way that increases the quality of life of those who choose to access them," he said. "Personally, this has been a great thing to even include my own children in, to show them creative ways to meet the needs of our community."


Information from: Kokomo Tribune, http://www.ktonline.com

This is an AP Member Exchange shared by the Kokomo Tribune.

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