Hazel Park library brings books to public spaces this spring

Little Free Library project uses outdoor book boxes to promote reading

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published December 10, 2012

HAZEL PARK — Richard Robbins, a member of the Hazel Park Library Friends, was taught by his aunt how to read at a very young age. He’s always been comfortable with words and strongly believes in the value of literacy. But he also knows not everyone has the time or inclination to visit the local library for reading material.

As such, he and fellow members of the Friends are gearing up to take the library to the people. The trick is a series of outdoor newspaper boxes that will be set up in high-traffic areas and provide stacks of books for people to take, read and hopefully return.

Maybe someone wants to pass time while waiting for a bus or taking the ride home. Maybe they’re walking down the street when the colorfully repurposed box catches their eye. They can even donate books, dropping them off in the box if they want to share a good read with others. There are countless titles in storage at the library, keeping the boxes full, along with new donations from others.

The idea behind the boxes, which will start appearing this spring, is to get more people reading, more often.

“I like promoting the idea of reading and literacy as a public interest — it helps people expand their world,” Robbins said. “If they can’t read, it makes it infinitely harder to learn things. So it’s one of my goals in the community.”

The idea for the boxes comes from the Little Free Library (LFL), a program based in Wisconsin. Their slogan is, “Take a book, leave a book.” A variety of gently used books are put in weatherproof enclosures, and people can use them, free of cost or obligation.

The Friends have donated $100 to register with LFL, which will help to promote the Hazel Park boxes by getting them listed on LFL’s national map of locations. LFL will also provide promotional materials that the Friends can use to drum up public support for the program and build awareness. 

Other key players in the Hazel Park project are Jeff Sawyer, who is retrofitting four newspaper boxes, and Laura Wiedman, the artist responsible for the lush paintings on the library windows, who will overhaul the boxes with colorful imagery.

Robbins is hoping to get at least the first four boxes ready by the spring. If an auto body shop were to help sand and prime the boxes for Wiedman to paint, this would help speed the process along, he said. Future boxes may take the form of full-on wooden structures built from the ground up, rather than repurposing newspaper boxes.

The Friends are still researching locations, but early ideas include the corner of Nine Mile and John R, by the bus stops, and also at the new art garden by Dairy Queen on John R. Another possibility is Scout Park next to Hazel Park Junior High.

Corrine Stocker, the interim library director, said she’s in full support of the initiative.

“One concern of mine is there may be people out there whose schedules are such that they might not be able to use the library, so this is another way of giving them access to books,” Stocker said.

She also drew parallels to the library’s senior outreach program, where books are brought to local senior citizen living facilities, and how this has attracted a lot of new library card holders.

“It (the boxes) are a unique opportunity to promote literacy and reading in the community, to reach out to people who are currently not using the library for whatever reason,” Stocker said. “And it’s another opportunity for us to expand the library’s presence beyond the library’s physical walls.”

The Hazel Park Memorial Library is located at 123 E. Nine Mile. For more information, call the library at (248) 546-4095.