Little Free Libraries

It’s not surprising that many of the Mendocino coastal communities have embraced the concept of little free libraries. On roadsides, street corners, and front yards from Fort Bragg to Gualala, pretty wooden boxes on posts offer books for the taking. Some of the book houses are registered by their builders and sponsors with the Little Free Library organization and some are not, but all operate on the serve-yourself/take-a-book/leave-a-book/enjoy! principle.

Elk’s Little Free Library, established by the Greenwood Civic Club

A concept that works equally well in urban and rural areas, the Little Free Library movement started in Hudson, Wisconsin in 2009.  Todd Bol mounted a book box, designed to look like a one-room schoolhouse, on a post in his lawn as a tribute to his mother, a book lover and school teacher who had recently died. Bol shared his desire to promote literacy with his friend Rick Brooks, and together they built and installed more of the book houses in in the Midwest. After a while, the idea started to spread and the Little Free Library incorporated as a nonprofit organization in May of 2012. 

Bol’s original goal was to inspire the creation of 2,510 help-yourself libraries, a number that would surpass by one the total libraries endowed by Andrew Carnegie or his foundation between 1889 and 1929. That goal was easily met shortly after LFL incorporated and, as of spring, 2020, the number of Little Free Libraries had increased to more than 100,000 in at least 91 countries around the world. 

As far as we know, the first LFL on the coast was erected in 2014 in Irish Beach by Nik and Nancy Epanchin. According to the Coast Observer, they had seen one on a trip and their grandson had been so taken with the book he got from it that Nancy vowed she’d have Nik put one up when they got home. At the ribbon cutting, attended by friends and neighbors, the Epanchins dedicated their book house to their mothers, “who taught us the joy of reading.” 

When the Epanchin’s Irish Beach neighbor, Gary Klein, saw their little library, he wanted one of his own and, subsequently, his son-in-law built the “Whale of a Tale” box for him as a Christmas present. Klein now has “interesting books delivered to my doorstep” and loves it. He is a member of the Coast Community Library board of directors and is happy to share information on sponsoring and building Little Free Libraries with anyone (ggggklein@gmail.com) 

The web site map of registered Little Free Libraries (https://littlefreelibrary.org/ourmap/) indicates that there are four official LFLs in Fort Bragg, one of which is sponsored by Pacific Textile Arts. There’s one in South Caspar that doubles as a source of information on saving and encouraging pollinators. Moving south, there is one in Mendocino; one in Little River at the Little River Inn; one in Albion at the Ledford House; the Greenwood Civic Club’s sturdy book house by the post office in Elk; one in Anchor Bay; and the two mentioned above in Irish Beach. 

Caspar’s Little Library may not be registered with LFL, but it’s little and free and very popular, located as it is at the entry to the mailboxes at the Caspar Community Center. Put up in September of 2019, it features a beautifully woodcarving of Gertie the Gorse Monster. It was built by local fine woodworker Paul Reiber at the behest of Jima Abbott, who had for years contributed his books to LFLs in Fort Bragg. He decided he wanted one in his own back yard.

Also not an official LFL, but a book house nonetheless is the Box of Books in Point Arena, installed next to the pharmacy by Friends of the Coast Community Library in December, 2020. In an article in a recent Coastal Observer (December 11, 2020), FOCCL member Paula Smith explained that, because COVID has forced cancellation of their regular library book sales, they wanted a way to get free books to the public. The B.O.B. is restocked often and is open 24/7. “If the B.O.B. could talk,” said Smith, “It would say, ‘I’m a little box of books; open me up and you open up the world!’ ”