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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Thirty thousand and counting.
That's how many Little Free Libraries lend books to readers throughout Wisconsin, the United States and 80 other countries around the world, say those who organized a celebration on Aug. 22 at the Central Branch of the Madison Public Library.
"We never expected anything like this," said Susan Bol, wife of Todd Bol, who in 2009 built the first Little Free Library in his garage in Hudson. The roughly cabinet-sized libraries — many of which are designed and decorated to resemble houses, but which also have been known to resemble everything from mushrooms to minivans — hold free books that passers-by are encouraged to take and enjoy.
As far as organizers of last Saturday's event know, Madison has the highest concentration anywhere of Little Free Libraries, the Wisconsin State Journal (http://bit.ly/1h5Gy1f ) reported.
"Madison is really a heritage site for Little Free Libraries," said Megan Hanson, community and engagement leader for the group behind the Little Free Library movement. "It's part of the culture. ... Madison is a quirky, hippy, about-the-people type of town."
Hanson estimated that there are at least 250 Little Free Libraries in Madison. That's why, she said, the group decided to make Madison its first stop on the "Across America With Little Free Library" tour, which celebrates the 30,000-library milestone.
Other stops on the tour include Springfield, Detroit and Cleveland — cities known for having high or rapidly growing concentrations of the libraries — and Washington, D.C., for the National Book Festival.
Todd Bol estimated that there are more like 300 to 400 Little Free Libraries in Madison and Dane County. He said he and the other people who built the first Little Free Libraries are proud of how extensively the movement has promoted literacy and connections among community members who share books and stop to chat about the libraries.
"All we wanted to do was be a stimulus," he said, adding that the Little Free Libraries "make heroes out of every neighbor."
With several hundred free libraries in Madison, though, is it possible that the city will soon reach its capacity for small "habitats for the humanities," as organizers initially considered calling the libraries?
No way, Hanson and the Bols said.
"There's never a shortage of the need to communicate," Hanson said.
Susan Bol added that people don't have to build the libraries for themselves or their towns.
"People can choose places where there's a need," she said. (For instance, one of the four libraries constructed during Saturday's celebration will be donated to American Players Theatre in Spring Green.)
Todd Bol said that since the Little Free Library movement encourages participants to develop new ideas and share them, it will continue to promote literacy in other ways beyond the construction of new libraries.
For instance, Margaret Aldrich, a Minneapolis-based writer and Little Free Library lover, just published a book about the libraries, which the Bols are taking with them on the "Across America" tour.
And Todd Bol and Dave Finkle, a television producer and screenwriter, recently started a "Whatcha Readin?" campaign intended to get people talking about books. The campaign includes a video challenge through which people can win prizes for submitting videos that creatively feature conversations about reading.
"If you're leading a movement, what you've got to do is capture the wisdom of the movement," Todd Bol said. "A movement isn't one piece."
Information from: Wisconsin State Journal, http://www.madison.com/wsj
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