Shelf Life

Roxanna Pepper oversees the Little Free Library at local community center A Place to Go, but she envisions the siting of many more boxes. Photo by Rimas Zailskas

As part of a major refresh of Hendersonville’s Sullivan Park, a ribbon cutting in November focused on the site’s lovingly renovated Little Free Library.

“The box had been left mostly abandoned when we took it,” says Black History Collective of Henderson County Founder Crystal Cauley, who administered the project. “We replaced the doors and chose a local artist [Franklin Black] to paint the outside. We’ve worked hard to see that it’s stocked with books in English and Spanish. It’s important to be inclusive in our community.” (Cauley says there is another little free library, in Flat Rock, that has advocated for Spanish-language books.)

The result, a brightly colored cabinet festooned with paintings of children, invites bookworms of all ages to step up and take a peek at what’s on the shelves.

This idea — of pitching literacy and community through whimsical boxes full of books — is an ethos shared by almost everyone who’s participated in the Little Free Library movement. These pocket libraries have sprung up  seemingly everywhere since 2009, when Todd Bol used wood from his garage door to create a replica of a one-room schoolhouse on his lawn in Hudson, Wisconsin, in honor of his mother. 

Photo by Rimas Zailskas

He filled it with books and encouraged anyone who dropped by to take a book and leave a book. The library was so popular that Bol and his partner Rick Brooks started building and helping others to build similar libraries through the Midwest. In 2012, the Little Free Library organization was incorporated as a nonprofit offering tools, resources, and a listings guide for locations throughout North America and the rest of the world. 

Bol passed away in 2018, of pancreatic cancer. But now, in 2022, there are estimated to be more than 150,000 Little Free Libraries in more than 110 countries worldwide — and those are just the ones tracked by the organization. 

Observant readers will have already noted the growing number of Little Free Libraries in greater Hendersonville, spread through multiples neighborhoods, near schools, parks, and commercial spaces. While the libraries offer up everything from kids’ books to cookbooks, self-help books to romance, classic to contemporary literature, often some of the most charming  stories come from the libraries themselves.

Consider, for instance, Meredith Stark’s nautical-themed Little Free Library on Bryan Avenue, started as a birthday project when her father discovered an old barn cupola at a shop in Asheville. 

“I did some research on Little Free Libraries,” says Stark. “I saw people were using grandfather clocks, phone booths, all kinds of things. Dad has always been great with wood. It turned out perfectly.”

Two years later, Stark’s mermaid-topped “Lil Free Library by the Sea” is still a hit with her neighbors. “The kids love it,” she says. “They love taking books and returning them. And it’s wonderful that it stays so full.”

Judy Nicholson has noted similar enthusiasm for her Little Free Library on Clairmont Drive. It resembles a house wrapped with a white picket fence, its gabled roof shaped as an open book. 

“I saw my first Little Free Library in Kansas City, and I wanted to bring one to my neighborhood in Hendersonville” says Nicholson. 

Flat Rock Playhouse
Photo by Rimas Zailskas

As a resident of a historic district, Nicholson worked with neighbors and advisors to make sure her Little Free Library would stay within design guidelines. She does some curating inside its compact walls, as well.

“I have a shelf for children and one for adults,” says Nicholson. “Sometimes, I add a little gift. I keep a comment book, and the feedback has been wonderful. “

Libraries continue to proliferate throughout the area. A short list would include locations at Dana Community Park, on Calhoun Street and Shadywood Lane, and at the Echo Mountain Inn, among many others. And advocates of the Little Free Library program are eager to extend that number even further.

Roxanna Pepper is steward of the Little Free Library at A Place to Go Center at 1508 Lincoln Circle, an all-ages space that supports community members through educational programs, including personal coaching and classes on wellness and financial planning.

5th Avenue, Hendersonville
Photo by Rimas Zailskas

Pepper has overseen the Center and its little library for a year. She feels strongly that these reading outposts can bring people together to share ideas.

“When you see people making use of the libraries, it really is a family affair,” she says. “I want to make sure that everyone gets a book and everyone gets to share a book.”

In order to do that, she encourages more people to get involved. 

“We’ll always need books,” says Pepper. But she’s interested in stocking more than just a single box. For her, the library at A Place to Go is a stepping-off point.

“I’d like to have one in every housing development,” she says.

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