Little idea going big-time

Published 11:01 am Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Gretchen Erickson stands with the Little Free Library outside her home at 900 Fourth St. SW this morning. The library is open to anybody who wants a good read. Eric Johnson/

Gretchen Erickson stands with the Little Free Library outside her home at 900 Fourth St. SW this morning. The library is open to anybody who wants a good read. Eric Johnson/

Family’s free library could soon inspire more through Vision 2020

One family’s little idea to bring a popular book-sharing system to Austin could soon make a big splash in promoting literacy and reading.

Gretchen Erickson; her husband, Ted Hinchcliffe; and their twin children recently put a little free library on their yard at 900 Fourth St. SW near Skinner’s Hill. The little library, which resembles a blend of birdhouse and mailbox, houses an assortment of books for people of all ages that anyone is free to borrow and return.

Erickson and her family were inspired to bring the idea to Austin after seeing the little free libraries in the Twin Cities and other areas. Once the family saw one, Erickson said they started noticing them all over.

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The little free libraries started in 2009 in Hudson, Wis., when Todd Bol built one to resemble a school house in honor of his mother, a former teacher who loved reading. Bol filled it with books and posted it his front lawn to the delight of neighbors and friends who came to borrow the books. The idea exploded to thousands of similar free libraries around the world and spawning a Little Free Library nonprofit and the website There will be about 10,000 to 12,000 little free libraries around the world by January of next year, according to the site.

Though little libraries are for sale on, Erickson asked her neighbor, Frank Nelson, for help, and he built the little library that’s now on her property.

“We thought, why not do one? There’s not one in Austin,” Erickson said.

Erickson, who has worked with the Community Learning Center and with AmeriCorps, has a passion for promoting reading. She worked with the CLC’s free lunch program over the summer, where there was a free library called Reader’s Cafe that had the same goal.

“The idea is we’re trying to promote literacy,” she said. “We’re trying to promote reading as something that’s an enjoyable thing to do.”

In the roughly three weeks since their little free library went up, the response to Erickson’s library has been overwhelmingly positive. Many people have stopped to borrow books, and Erickson said others — many whom the family doesn’t know — have called offering to donate books to the little library.

“When you do something like this, you’re never quite sure what kind of reaction you’re going to get. … The reaction that we’ve gotten from everyone has just been really awesome,” Erickson said.

So far people have been good about bringing the books back, but Erickson figures if they’re not in the box, hopefully they’re in a child’s hand being read. Erickson plans to register her library with

The idea may soon be inspiring other people around Austin, as Erickson and Vision 2020 and Austin Public Library officials are planning a community meeting on the little free library with the hopes of inspiring others.

Laura Helle, director of creative vision for Vision 2020, described the little free library as and idea right in line with the goals of Vision 2020. The Community Pride and Spirit Committee even discussed the libraries early on, but the idea was set aside until Helle recently saw a picture of Erickson’s library on Facebook. Helle posted a picture of it Vision 2020’s Facebook page, and it had received 146 likes and 29 comments as of Monday.

“I expect to see more,” she said.

While Helle said Vision 2020 and the Community Pride and Spirit Committee likely won’t make the free libraries a core goal, it’s just one of many smaller projects Vision 2020 can support to promote community betterment.

“It’s not all going to be multi-million dollar building projects,” she said.