A book in every hand: Dover library expands reach with ‘Little Free Libraries’

City of Dover employees Karen DeMarco and Charlie O’Brien put the finishing touches on one of the seven Little Free Libraries that are scattered throughout the city. Submitted photo

DOVER — The Dover Public Library is leaving books scattered at several locations throughout the city of Dover, like little seedlings, hoping to grow a passion for reading while expanding literacy among the community.

Margie Cyr, director of the Dover Public Library, had the vision to bring Little Free Libraries to several parks around the city, knowing that is one place where families often go together and another great place to pick up a book to read.

Last April, the library completed construction on six Little Free Libraries, including Mill Creek, Dover Park, Mallard Pond, Schutte Park, Continental Park and the playground at Bicentennial Village. A seventh little library was added in September at Williams Park.

“The vision of Little Free Libraries came from Margie Cyr, our library director,” said Michelle Hughes, assistant director of the Dover Public Library. “The idea was hers. She went to the Little Free Library website and got us registered and was proactive in asking the (Dover) city councilmen for support, which they did.

“We had several members of city council and the Friends of Dover Public Library who helped with funding the program. Each of the seven units had to be custom built, so they helped with the funding to pay for that.”

A Little Free Library is a “take a book, return a book” free book exchange. They come in many shapes and sizes, but the most common version is a small wooden box of books. Anyone may take a book or bring a book to share. Each Little Free Library book exchange has a unique, personal touch.

The Little Free Library website (Littlefreelibrary.org) said, “There is an understanding that real people are sharing their favorite books with their community; Little Libraries have been called ‘mini-town squares.’”

Dover has joined other little library sites around the state in cities and towns such as Lewes (five sites), Rehoboth Beach (four), Clayton (three) and Blades and Milton (one apiece).

Dover’s Little Free Libraries are registered at the Little Free Library website, which describes how a local community project turned into a global movement. According to the website, “there are more than 90,000 registered Little Free Library book-sharing boxes in 91 countries worldwide.”

This year marks the 10th anniversary of Little Free Libraries.

In 2009, Todd Bol (1956-2018) created the first Little Free Library book exchange and placed it in his Hudson, Wisconsin, front yard in tribute to his mother — a teacher. Ten years later, his idea has snowballed into the world’s largest book-sharing movement.

“I really believe in a Little Free Library on every block and a book in every hand,” Mr. Bol said, after creating the first Little Free Library. “I believe people can fix their neighborhoods, fix their communities, develop systems of sharing, learn from each other, and see that they have a better place on this planet to live.”

Ms. Hughes said Dover’s little libraries have been well-received by the community. Individuals do not need to have a library card to participate. It’s free and available to everybody.

“Right now, we go out more than once a month, actually twice a month, to restock the books,” she said. “Most of the displays need to be restocked so people are taking the materials, which is the goal. We want to promote literacy in the community, especially for those who can’t come into our facility.

“Our long-term goal is maybe to become more self-sustaining, so people can take a book and leave a book.”

Dover staff members Rosie Mujica and Jaclyn Hale helped design and create this poster board pop-up library for Dover at the James W. Williams State Service Center. Submitted photo

The books in the little libraries are for a variety of ages, reading levels and subjects.

“We try to give a good mixture of children, adult and young-adult books, as well,” Ms. Hughes said. “All of the books are donated items, so sometimes it’s overflow from the book sale area within the library and sometimes it’s donations from book publishers.

“It’s nothing that the library has spent money on. The public is welcome to drop off books for the Little Free Libraries at the Dover Public Library.”

Dover’s Little Free Libraries program is an offshoot of the Tuesday in the Park program that the Dover Public Library has brought to the community the last two summers. It’s a collaboration between the library and the city’s Parks and Recreation Division.

“We started (in 2018). Our first program was the Tuesday in the Park program, which Sherwanda (Rachal-Speaks, the city’s recreation specialist) and I worked on jointly,” Ms. Cyr said. “It was a joint project between the Dover Public Library and the city’s Parks and Recreation Department because we recognized the fact that we needed not only the Parks Department, but also the library needs to be able to take our services out into the community to reach those people who have no way to connect to either of our existing facilities.

“So, on Tuesday mornings, park staff and library staff went into four different parks and we had a program for families, and we named it Tuesday in the Park. There were three elements to each Tuesday in the Park. One was a literary enrichment another was a physical activity and then we served free lunches for the free-lunch program.”

She added, “For our first summer I thought we were very satisfied with how it worked. It brought out families, it brought out kids and it brought them all into those parks that we wanted to highlight.”

Now, seven of those parks have their own little free libraries.

The Dover Public Library is also now starting to dip its feet into the idea of pop-up libraries, which is another increasing global trend.

The pop-up library is a simple way to increase the libraries reach into the community by establishing partnerships with local businesses that will house library displays.

Ms. Cyr said they create a positive community cohesiveness and expand literary services into all community services. Pop-up libraries can be high-tech or low-tech. Low-tech options can feature bulletin boards, poster boards, a table with information, etc.

In September, the Dover Public Library launched a partnership with the James W. Williams State Service Center.

In talking with Janet Burke, head administrator at the Williams Service Center, Ms. Hughes said it was clear that the community needed a low-tech pop-up library option.

Dover staff members Rosie Mujica and Jaclyn Hale helped design and create a poster board pop-up library for Dover. Library card applications, kids card trackers, library newsletters and plenty of free books are also included on the pop-up library table.

For Ms. Cyr and her staff, this has been quite a year for libraries popping up in Dover, and a trend that the library hopes to continue building upon now and into the future.

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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