The founder of the Little Free Library movement will be honored this weekend at events in his hometown celebrating the sharing legacy that began with a single box in his mother’s front yard.
Todd Bol, who in 2009 created a little wooden library in honor of his mother, has inspired an estimated 75,000 little libraries in all 50 states and 88 other countries.
His brother Tony Bol has organized the “Little Libraries, Big Heroes” children’s book launch party and swap in Stillwater, Minnesota, which aims to encourage neighbors to spend time getting to know one another and sharing resources. The book was written to honor Todd.
A city of about 19,000 along the St. Croix River that divides Minnesota and Wisconsin, Stillwater, Minnesota is the Bol brothers’ home town. Tony recalls, “My brother and I had an upbringing that was filled with stories of Scandinavian settlers starting farm co-ops and rural sharing systems.” Drawing from that background, it is no wonder that Todd would go on to found the Little Free Library movement. People in the movement were stunned when Todd passed away suddenly from pancreatic cancer in 2018. Determined to continue the work he started, Tony, along with other members of the Bol family, started Share with Others, which sells little free libraries, little free pantries (the movement expanded to include provision sharing), and other tools to enable resource sharing. All proceeds go towards establishing the Foundation for Front Yard Sharing. Tony said its goals were “innovation and sharing-system support.”
“Big Heroes, Little Libraries,” written by Miranda Paul and illustrated by John Parra, was published on September 3, 2019, and depicts Todd’s childhood and the seeds of his idea. It aims to inspire children to make a difference in their communities through sustainable initiatives. Miranda Paul will attend the book swap and launch party in downtown Stillwater’s Teddy Bear Park on Saturday, September 14 after reading to children at area schools on Friday, September 13. According to Tony, “A children’s book about his little library passion was well in the works before the time of his passing. I, along with other Bol family members, was able to read early drafts of ‘Little Libraries, Big Heroes’ to Todd during his time in hospice. As my brother faced his final days, he took great joy in a story that came from his heart and now is a book inspiring people to run with an idea and do something good.”
Part of the party will also include the Big Free Children’s Book Swap, in which families are encouraged to bring a few books and take a few, continuing Todd’s legacy of book-sharing. While some may write off Stillwater as too small to make an impact, that is far from the truth. As we have seen with library-based bike-loan systems, the Midwest leads the pack when it comes to sharing solutions. When asked what makes the Midwest an ideal place to foster a sharing movement, Tony recalled his upbringing and said, “The Midwest I know always had some resource sharing that is unusual and a source of pride. Even the Green Bay Packers are not owned by millionaires but rather an odd collective arrangement.”
The Bol family, author Miranda Paul, and the residents of the St. Croix Valley Area want to make sure that resource sharing is not seen as something odd but rather as the foundation of vibrant communities. They are working to sustain an intergenerational movement that began in the front yard of the Bol matriarch’s Wisconsin home. They recognize that this future belongs to the children who will settle down to crack open the pages of ‘Big Heroes, Little Libraries’ and be inspired to join a sharing movement that maybe started small but has a big impact.