Jo Ann Jaacks: Bringing a Global Sensation to Litchfield Hills

Rose in the mosh pit

Rose in the mosh pit

Jo Ann Jaacks

It all began with a new Facebook friend named Rose, followed by a chance meeting at the Morris Marketplace one sunny Sunday, then a get-together at Café 202 in Bantam for Chai and Chat. That was the launch for me falling down the rabbit hole of Little Free Library madness.

In the beginning - 2009 to be exact -Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin built a model of a one-room schoolhouse as a tribute to his mother; a teacher who loved to read. He filled it with books, put it on a post in his front yard, and thrilled neighbors and friends with the idea of free books. Rick Brooks saw Bol’s do-it-yourself project and soon the two were on a shared mission to make reading more accessible. They envisioned opportunities to achieve several goals for the common good: The Little Free Library project would use volunteers and donors to build literacy as well as boxes on poles. They were also inspired by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie’s support of 2,509 free public libraries around the turn of the 19th to 20th century.

So far, there are more than 100,000 small lending library boxes in 108 countries worldwide. Bol's early vision for an accelerated expansion came as a result of giving away 30 Little Free Libraries and watching them multiply. My new friend Rose took that concept to heart and eventually, I saw the creation of more than 50 Little Free Libraries to be “planted” throughout the Litchfield Hills. In the early years, this was accomplished with the support of many volunteers, including carpenters, roofers, Boy Scouts and artists, plus the generosity of many donators.

Amid a growing base of enthusiasts, that vision was successful, and eventually, the greater mission was realized when our local “program” known as Little Free Library at StoneHill caught the attention of the mothership of Founder/CEO Todd Bol visited us in the Litchfield Hills in June of 2016 to take an exhaustive tour with us to visit as many of the LFLs as possible.

Of course, nonprofit endeavors require fundraising. Our very first fundraiser was a marathon two days of tagsailing, performed like a full body contact sport. I had bruises and abrasions, and one broken fingernail. Running a tag sale is usually not a battleground, but when the two of us get going at full warp speed, lifting and moving heavy objects beyond our weight group . . . stubbing toes on fitness equipment and going down over hidden boxes beneath the tables . . . it’s a Wild Wild World. Luckily, the pain and suffering paid off when we cleared enough dollar bills to purchase and register a lot of new Little Free Libraries. And in the spirit of building community, lots of people helped with that effort, especially the American Legion Post 146 by providing a circus tent.

Rose now keeps track of all the people who want a Little Free Library in front of their house or business, or want to share their artistic ideas for designs - the monkeys and hot air balloons motif was enchanting, the bookworm turning into a bookbutterfly sounds captivating, and the frolicking panda bears on a library box for a Pre-K school turned out to be as adorable as the little ones reaching up to take a book out.

We also held pop-up events at local businesses and venues. One such grand opening was the most special since it was held at Pearly’s Farmhouse Café in Cornwall, featuring stone painting, bookmark-making, face painting (choose your favorite fictional character!), make-your-own seed exchange, snacks and story hour with Little Free Library Founder Todd Bol reading. When Justina Aylmer of Pearly’s asked him to read, his reply was: “I love storytelling; it’s like my favorite thing. Just point me in a direction and I can go all night. It is what I was meant to do.”

It's been a while since Rose and I have held a pop-up for Little Free Library at StoneHill, but I invite everyone to drop by if you’re in the vicinity of 459 Sharon Turnpike (Route 4) in Goshen, May 8 and 9 from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. for sculptor/artist Peter Woytuk’s Open Studio and Sale. The building is handicapped accessible, there will be refreshments, and Little Free Library at StoneHill will hold a pop-up event with free books for all ages. Come to see for yourself what this phenomenon is all about. Beware though, Little Free Library madness is contagious!