Andrea Gillespie and her husband Tom Berry always knew they wanted to create a special project when they retired from the world of education—one that shared their love of reading and supported their community. A little free library seemed the perfect fit.
Little free libraries promote the love of reading by providing a book exchange space where people can either take a book or leave a book. The movement began with a single library in Hudson, Wisconsin in 2009. It has since grown to more than 100,000 registered little free libraries in more than 100 countries around the world. Visit littlefreelibrary.org to see a map of registered locations.
Steve the Little Free Library, which sits at the bottom of Gillespie and Berry’s driveway, officially opened just over a week ago.
Gillespie was a principal for a number of years, and later worked as a school board superintendent before finishing her career at the Ministry of Education. She retired two years ago.
Some of her biggest projects involved reading, including establishing Trillium Lakelands District School Board’s Battle of the Books, a friendly competition in elementary schools in which students volunteer to read books and then take part in a game-show style quiz.
“I had been to a conference where I went to a session about little free libraries and that’s what inspired me,” she said. “My husband and I found ourselves retired, at home together a lot with an abundance of books, and the perfect space for it.”
Their little free library is housed in a bus shelter the couple built for their daughter when she was young. She was the one who named it “Steve”.
Berry did the necessary renovations while Gillespie organized the books and began sharing details on social media.
Before Steve was officially open, people—some of whom the couple didn’t even know—were already donating books for the library. Others who didn’t have any books to donate have been supporting the project with Indigo gift cards so that Gillespie can buy books by popular authors.
Although Steve has only been open a week, there hasn’t been a day where the donation box was empty, and there’s been a constant stream of people stopping by to browse the books.
“We want to expose people to books they normally wouldn’t pick up.” said Gillespie. “We want to encourage people to read about characters they may not usually gravitate towards.”
Little free library hosts are called stewards, and they have a supportive community behind them.
“As part of our early research I attended online meetings from other people who steward little free libraries and they gave me lots of cool ideas,” said Gillespie. “We have connected with people globally who love reading as much as us. A really incredible fact I found online was that 36 million books are shared through little free libraries each year.”
While donations are always accepted, visitors to Steve don’t have to leave books in order to take some home. The books can be returned, or readers are also encouraged to keep the ones they love or pass them on to friends.
After being inspected and sanitized, all donated books are organized into categories: young adult, general fiction, nonfiction, children’s picture books, middle grade (beginning to read independently), romance, and cookbooks. The only items they don’t accept are textbooks and magazines.
“It’s a project that has allowed us to share our love of reading and books with the community and has brought us so much joy during these difficult times,” said Gillespie. “In a strange way it’s allowing us to form connections when we aren’t able to see people. If we can do our part of getting books into homes of children and adults we will feel like we are doing something really worthwhile.”
Steve the Little Free Library is located an eight-minute drive from downtown Huntsville at 2835 Muskoka District Road 10, just off Brunel Road.
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