MANKATO, Minn. — If the little house perched on a pedestal in Bruce Blaisdell’s yard had been built for birds, it would provide a spacious, comfy home to some lucky robins.
The glass door on the front isn’t meant to keep predators out, though. Instead, it swings open freely, and regularly, offering entertainment options for neighborhood kids looking to mentally escape the confines of their own homes after school – without turning on their Xbox or Playstation machines.
They walk by the retired teacher’s Marshall Street home on their way to and from Jefferson Elementary. His “Little Library” has a note on the window that says the kids are free to take a book or leave one.
There are adult books in the little house, too, but Blaisdell said he’s added more children’s books recently because he’s noticed kids are using his library the most. As an example, there were several titles from the popular Baby Sitters Club series and Boxcar Children series. Adults could find books such as Trinity for themselves, and Barnyard Dance was waiting for the parent of a lucky toddler.
“Reading is probably the best trip in the world, isn’t it?” Blaisdell said. “I’ve had people stop and knock on the door and say, ‘What a great idea.’ Anytime you can encourage someone to read a book, it’s a good thing.”
He got the idea for the fancy book bin while visiting his daughter in Faribault. She brought him to Dale Smith’s house and showed him the Little Free Library he had built on the corner of his yard.
Blaisdell said he became more intrigued after his daughter told him the small neighborhood book exchanges were popping up all over the country.
“Once I found that out, I said let’s get on the bandwagon,” he said.
With his tongue in his cheek, Todd Bol of Hudson, Wis., jokingly refers to Blaisdell’s creation as a rogue Little Free Library because it doesn’t have an official sign. Bol is the guy credited with starting the idea, which has reached far beyond Faribault and Mankato. He’s offered to have an official sign made for anyone who is willing to build a library.
There are now hundreds of Little Free Libraries in the United States and overseas. There’s also an official Little Free Library Web site.
“I started it about two years ago,” Bol said. “I just built one in my yard and people responded to it so positively during a garage sale.
“I built it to slow down traffic along the St. Croix River and to honor my mom (June Bol). I had no real intention of building more.”
After seeing so many people “light up” during that garage sale, Bol contacted his friend, Rick Brooks, in Madison, Wis., and worked out a plan to put up little libraries in that city. There were more than 70 sites in the Madison area at last count.
Fancy-looking versions of the libraries have sprouted all over Louisiana since a woman in New Orleans put one up and drew the attention of state media. Something similar happened in northern Minnesota when a Detroit Lakes woman’s library was in the news.
There have been calls from reporters as far away as Sweden and Israel, Bol said.
“I think its explosion is yet to come,” he said. “I made my 725th sign the other day. Every day I get an e-mail about a new one being built. You have to figure, come spring time or summer, there will be two or three going up every day.
“One person in the community starts the seed, then more people start building and growing the idea. It has a way of pulling a community together.”
Those seeds are already spreading in Mankato. Blaisdell has been getting some help from Mark Hustad, owner of Once Read Book Exchange in downtown Mankato.
Blaisdell went into the store recently looking for children’s books to add to his collection. He used his phone to show Hustad a picture of his Little Library, which is painted to match his house and includes solar-powered lights.
Hustad told him the library already had caught his attention, then gave him a deal on a bunch of children’s books.