On October 18, 2018, Todd Bol, the founder of the Little Free Library, passed away at the age of 62 due to complications of pancreatic cancer. Margret Aldrich, a spokesperson for the Little Free Library organization said of Bol: “Todd created this beautiful, living, breathing movement of literary and community that resonated from that very first Little Free Library all the way to today. He was a true believer in the power of one person to make a difference. And he certainly did.”
The story of the Little Free Library begins in 2009. Bol was renovating the garage of his home. After removing an old wooden door, he realized that he didn’t want all that good wood to go to waste. He pondered about what he could do with the wood. That is when he was struck with an epiphany: why not build a tribute to his mother, who had been a schoolteacher? So he built a small replica of a schoolhouse (about two feet wide by two feet tall), filled it with about 20 books that his mother owned, attached the structure to a post, and planted it on his front lawn. The world was introduced to the first free book exchange, the first Little Free Library, based on the honor system: take a book, leave a book. Absolutely brilliant!
Bol had read the biography of Andrew Carnegie, the railroad and steel magnate, who as one of the country’s richest men wanted to give back to society by establishing 2,509 libraries. That legacy was in the back of his mind, when he established the Little Free Library nonprofit organization in 2010, hoping to inspire others to build a little library in their own neighborhoods. His initial dream was to inspire others in order to beat Carnegie’s record. Bol, with the assistance of some craftsmen, built some of them; but most were built by home owners who downloaded plans from the organization’s website. In just two years, there were more than 2,510 little libraries around the world. Fast forward to today, and Bol’s organization has inspired more than 75,000 Little Free Libraries throughout the United States (all 50 states) and in 88 countries. And what’s truly remarkable is that people get really creative with their libraries — they come in all shapes and sizes. You will find libraries that look like spaceships, barns, Victorian mansions, boxcars, robots, log cabins, cars, boats, trains, and even replicas of the houses of the builders.
So the next time you walk by or drive by a Little Free Library, think of Bol, the man who launched 75,000 libraries around the globe to share books and support literacy. Indeed, one person can make a difference.
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For further reading: The Little Free Library Book by Margret Aldrich