City's little libraries capitalize on the lure of books

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RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) — The little libraries of Rapid City are tackling a big goal: literacy.

The Rapid City Journal ( ) reports that as many as eight of these handcrafted libraries filled with free books have popped up on lawns and several parks. There are no wait lists, due dates or late fees. Although each is different, all operate on the same philosophy: Take a book, leave a book.

In the age of digital everything, Rapid City teachers and literature enthusiasts are pushing paper-and-ink books. Judy Hey, a former clerk at the Wilson Elementary School library, and her husband built a free little library next to their home at 918 Quincy St. in September 2014.

"I'm trying to keep books alive," Hey said. "I love my Kindle, but there's just something about holding a book, and I know a lot of people feel that way."

After a year on the block, their library is self-sustaining.

"At first I was using all my own books and getting all my own stuff," she said, "and now it just recycles all the time."

Mary Kellogg, a first-grade teacher at Wilson who also started a little free library in her front yard, was inspired by the popular children's book "The Giving Tree."

"We had this maple tree in the front yard that was dying," Kellogg said. "When the man was cutting it down I said, 'Would you mind making a little chair out of this? I've got this idea where people could go for a walk and sit down and read a book to their kids.'"

She calls it "a real-life giving tree."

Kellogg notices that people are unsure whether they can use the library and chair in her yard at 1116 West Blvd.

"It's going to take people a while to realize it's OK to come in our front yard," she said. "Hopefully it will become understood this is what it's there for. We want them to do that."

Because she wanted to place her little library in Wilson Park south of downtown, Pam Beshara, a third-grade teacher at Wilson Elementary, had to deal with the city bureaucracy.

"It took us longer than we thought to get that done because it is public land," she said. "We had to write special letters to the Parks Department and wait for double approval."

This approval process took more than five months, but Beshara was not discouraged.

"I was determined to get this one done for the park," she said.

The first known little library in Rapid City was built in 2012 as a classroom project at Children's House Montessori School at 3520 W. Main St. Jill Peña, a teacher at the school, loves the message the library sends to the community.

"I'm proud we erected something like that," she said. "We are a very special school, and setting a standard like that is very important, especially for reading. That is one of the most important things we can do for our children, for everybody."

There are no rules for constructing little libraries. Most of their creators simply provide a public space where people can share literature. Some people model theirs after their own homes or use recycled objects like microwaves or refrigerators. A prospective library operator can buy a basic library kit online for $150, with deluxe pre-made libraries costing up to $500. Rapid City residents are building their own libraries and customizing them to fit their neighborhood's needs.

Most libraries are simple painted wooden box structures with a transparent door to showcase the books inside.

"It's kind of limitless in your imagination and creativity," Hey said.

The little free library movement started in 2009 by Todd Bol of Hudson, Wis., as a tribute to his mother, a librarian who loved books. A year later he established a nonprofit organization called Little Free Library with the goal of building 2,500 libraries across the country. The idea spread, and today an estimated 25,000 custom-made libraries have been built around the world according to the website

Rapid City residents who are building libraries have a shared goal.

"Enhancing literacy in our community," Kellogg said. "We're teachers. It's all about having kids read, people read."


Information from: Rapid City Journal,

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