Todd Bol died on October 18, of pancreatic cancer. He was 62.
Todd who? Never heard of him? Most people haven’t, he certainly wasn’t looking for fame back in 2009 when he was renovating his garage in Hudson, Wisconsin after losing his job. An old door was too beautiful to toss out, so, in a tribute to his mother, he fashioned it into a miniature country schoolhouse (she had been a teacher), put some of his mother’s books in it and planted it on his front lawn. Thus was born the original little free library.
After a garage sale when he noticed that more people were more interested in the library than in what he had to sell, Bol decided to aim high. Andrew Carnegie used his steel-and-railroad fortune to found 2,509 libraries (including what is now the Morris Graves Museum of Art). Bol aimed for one more, 2,510…reached just two years later! The actual Little Free Library organization, incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in 2011, “aims to inspire a love of reading, build community, and spark creativity by fostering neighborhood book exchanges around the world.”
Today, over 75,000 Little Free Libraries can be found in 88 countries worldwide. That’s without any crusade, no TV ads, possibly the lowest-key publicity campaign in history. We’ve seen LFLs in France, Spain, Italy, Lithuania, Mexico, Vietnam, Greece … without even looking for them. We’ll just be wandering around and there one is, with the black-and-white “official” sign proclaiming its serial number. (It cost us, I think, $25 to get our numbered sign from the non-profit LFL organization — and we’ve seen plenty of little free libraries — no capital letters — that haven’t chosen to be “official.” No problem, they work just as well!)
Louisa and I had paused in Weaverville in 2012, fresh from a hike (more like, exhausted) in the eastern Trinities when she came running over to me. “You’ve got to see this,” she said. “This” was our introduction to the LFL craze, a tidy little box in the park opposite the Joss House on Highway 199 with the sign, “Little Free Library: Take a Book, Leave a Book.” About two dozen books showed behind a clear acrylic window in the door. “Let’s do it!” she said. A quick trip to our local thrift store netted us an old standing desk for $18 (senior discount, you know). A couple of hours hacking, sawing, sanding and painting, and our own LFL was ready for business.
Except, it’s not “our own.” That’s the beauty of it. Sure we keep an eye on it, and, in its original exposed location in the Redwood Curtain Theatre (thanks guys!), it needed the odd bit of maintenance, but by and large it takes care of itself in its new location in Old Town Coffee and Chocolates. That is, people do. We don’t know them, they don’t know us, but they supply the necessary TLC to keep the library stocked, books tidily lined up. It’s a no-muss, no-fuss project, entropy in-entropy out in a happy balance.
Thanks Todd, RIP.