Austin elementary schools get little free libraries

Published 10:25 am Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Pictured are the four little free libraries at Banfield, Neveln, Sumner and Southgate Elementary Schools. Photos provided

Pictured are the four little free libraries at Banfield, Neveln, Sumner and Southgate Elementary Schools. Photos provided

The school libraries are no longer the only place for students to get free books at Austin schools.

The Austin Rotary Club partnered with Habitat for Humanity to build and install four little free libraries at the Austin Public Schools’ elementary schools: Banfield, Neveln, Southgate and Sumner.

“Austin Rotary has a literacy focus, and it was an opportunity to partner with Habitat for Humanity and promote literacy within the community,” Community Education and Communications Director Amy Baskin said.

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Little libraries resemble a blend of birdhouse and mailbox. They typically feature an assortment of books for people of all ages that anyone can borrow and return. The first little free libraries came to Austin in 2013. There are libraries on the lawns of Gretchen Erickson and her husband, Ted Hinchcliffe, at 900 Fourth St. SW and Rollie Hanson at 2002 10th St. SW. Another is in Heath Rysavy’s yard at 105 Ninth St NW, according to

The newest little libraries are the ones at the elementary schools. The Austin libraries start with 90 books appropriate for babies through adults. People are encouraged to bring a book with them to exchange when picking out books.

When approached about putting up the library box, Neveln Principal Dewey Schara had no hesitations.

“It was an opportunity and of course we said yes immediately,” he said.

Neveln has been trying to put in multiple opportunities to get students reading, and Schara said he is excited for just one more way to do that. Neveln staff have also worked to provide ebooks and get more reading programs that provide incentives within the school day.

“This will be another opportunity for kids to have access to books,” he said.

The school will continue to rotate books to give students more options. One of the reading initiatives asks parents to read with their children for 20 minutes a night, but Schara said often times getting a book over the weekend or during the evening can prove difficult.

“Now they can just walk to school and through our little lending library bring a book home,” he said. “We just think it’s an awesome opportunity.”

The boxes were put up on Monday and filled with books Tuesday. Although students haven’t had much time to utilize them yet, Schara said they have created quite a buzz. The school plans to discuss the library with staff and parents in the coming days.

The four boxes put up at the elementary schools were made by members from Habitat for Humanity. Last year after the first little free libraries came to Austin, Vision 2020 and Austin Public Library held meetings to spread the word on the concept, and Freeborn-Mower Habitat for Humanity offered to build little free libraries for interested homeowners as a fundraiser. For $125, the libraries will come fully installed on someone’s yard. Habitat for Humanity can be contacted at 507-433-1349, 800 Seventh Ave. NE, Austin.

Little libraries have been around for quite a while, and Baskin said Rotary members wanted to join the fun.

“[Rotary members] thought it was a really good way to get literacy into neighborhoods,” Baskin said.

She said the libraries are nice for everyone, whether they have out-of-town guests or grandchildren visiting, or for people living within walking distance to one of the boxes. The boxes are also open all the time; if someone needs a book that night they have the opportunity to get one. Although the public library is a great resource, Baskin said the little libraries can be equally exciting.

“It’s sort of cool to know that I’m reading a book that one of my neighbors have read and enjoyed, versus I’m going to go to the library and just wander through the hundreds of books that they have,” Baskin said.

The overall goal of the libraries is to get people to read.

“I hope that they read more and I hope that they will use them, that they’ll share their love of the books that they love, that they’ll go find something new,” Baskin said. “I’m very excited, it’s a great thing to have in our community.”

Although they are unsure of location, the Rotary Club plans to place more Little Free Libraries throughout the county. They plan to start expanding next year.

“The plan is to expand this beyond Austin,” Baskin said. “I would love if people would put them up in their own yards, that would be awesome.”

For more information on the Little Free Libraries, visit

Did you know?

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.

For past stories on the little libraries, visit and see the January/February 2014 edition of Austin Living magazine for a story on Rollie Hanson’s little free library.