Todd H. Bol's First Little Free Library
Todd H. Bol created the first Little Free Library in 2009 in his hometown of Hudson, WI. Created to honor his mother, a teacher passionate about reading, it encouraged his community to "give a book, take a book" for free. Following growing popularity in his community, Bol worked with his friend, Rick Brooks, to create the nonprofit organization, Little Free Library. Through this organization, people around the world are able to create their own little free libraries, connect with others in their community, and learn other ways to encourage literacy throughout their communities. Though Bol passed away in 2018, his legacy lives on through Little Free Library and through those who have joined him in his mission to build literacy and to build community.
Backstory and Context
In 2009, Todd H. Bol created the first little free library in the front yard of his home in Hudson, WI. This little library was a tribute to his late mother, who had been a teacher who loved to read. The little library itself was a wooden box, decorated to look like a schoolhouse, in which books could be placed and taken by passersby for free. Besides acting as a tribute, Bol’s goal for his little library was that it would encourage literacy and bring the community in his neighborhood closer together. Over time, interest in his creation grew.
With the help of his friend, Rick Brooks of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Bol was able to make up for the growing interest in his little free libraries by creating the nonprofit organization, Little Free Library. Bol and Brooks were further inspired in their mission by Andrew Carnegie, a philanthropist in the 19th and 20th century, who had had 2,510 libraries built in his time. Bol and Brooks’ goal then was to have their little free libraries and the libraries created by others surpass that number. Little did they know then just how much of an impact Little Free Library would be. As of Little Free Library’s 10th anniversary, that goal number was far surpassed, with more than 80,000 registered Little Free Libraries found in 91 countries.
Through Little Free Library, Bol and his team provide resources on little free libraries, how to build them, and how to register them for others to find. This way, other neighborhoods throughout the state of Wisconsin, throughout the country, and throughout the world could create their own little free library structures, promoting communities to come together over reading. By registering new little free libraries with Little Free Library, creators become official stewards of that library and the structure is marked on a map on the site, showing all the little free libraries in any given area. The number of little free libraries continues to grow, thanks to Bol’s organization.
“As stronger community connections form around free book sharing, the sweeter side of our shared humanity will expand like ripples across a pond.”(5)
Bol’s main hope for Little Free Library is that is would encourage stronger ties within communities. Many responses to the organization and its goals were positive and reinforced this hope. In addition to his organization, Bol also supported various other ways that communities could come together, including funds, clubs, and programs. Impact Library Grants Fund is one fund he created, to help build Little Free Libraries that are accessible in communities with lower resources. He also created the Action Book Club, a more involved book club with discussions as well as community projects. This way, Bol provided communities more than one way to come together through literacy.
Bol and his Little Free Library organization are not alone in their efforts to spread literacy, as public libraries, museums, companies, and schools, partner with the organization. Some examples of these partners include Penguin Random House, Books for Africa, and the New York Times Learning Network. By working with these partnerships, the greater public continue to learn about and get involved with Little Free Library.
Todd H. Bol passed away on October 18th, 2018, after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer. His legacy continues in his Little Free Library organization, which continues his efforts to promote literacy, through the creation of little free libraries.
"You can be the story of change"(4)
- Kirch, Claire. Building Momentum for Little Free Libraries. Publishers Weekly, vol. 260, no. 6. Published February 11th 2013.
- Smith, Mel. Take a Book or Leave a Book: the Little Free Library Movement. CONNector: Connecticut State Library Newsletter, vol. 16, no. 4 - 4. Published October 2014.
- Kirch, Claire. Little Free Library Marks a Decade of Book Sharing. Publishers Weekly, vol. 266, no. 215. Published May 27th 2019.
- Merina, Anita. Todd H. Bol, a Tribute. Publishers Weekly, vol. 265, no. 45. Published November 5th 2018.
- Aldrich, Margret. The Little Free Library Book. Coffee House Press, 2015.
- Paul, Miranda. Little Libraries, Big Heroes. New York, New York. Clarion Books, 2019.
- Todd H. Bol. Photograph. From Little Free Library. https://littlefreelibrary.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Todd-H-Bol-Image-510x382.jpg (Accessed December 6, 2019)