Teeny Tiny Libraries Are Sprouting Up All Over the World. This Guy Started it All.

Todd Bol built the first Little Free Library in his own yard—and created a movement.

Todd BolDavid Joles/Minneapolis Star Tribune/ZUMA Wire

Todd Bol built the first Little Free Library, a front-yard bookshelf with a small door, using the wood from his old garage door. He hoped that the whimsical structure would build conversation and community by encouraging neighbors to share books that were dear to them.

Soon, the idea spread, and in the past nine years, volunteers have built more than 75,000 dollhouse-sized libraries in 88 countries. The Little Free Library idea has led to neighborhood-wide book groups and even spawned an Action Book Club, in which members both read and do service projects together.

“Kids reading and people reading to them, you know, it changes everything,” Bol told the Star Tribune, days before his death last Thursday of cancer. “It changes the whole attitude of what is valued in a community.”

“It shows that if we work together, we can fix things and we can make this happen,” he said.

Bol, summing up his life, said this work made him feel like the most successful person in the world. “I wouldn’t switch my existence for Jeff Bezos or any of it,” he told reporter Jenna Ross.

The Little Free Library will go on strong after Bol, says Melissa Eystad, a former development director of the nonprofit, “but there’s no replacing Todd, that’s for sure.”

Readers, have you ever used a Little Free Library? Do you have a story to share, or a favorite book you contributed to (or found in) a Little Free Library? Let us know in the form below, or at recharge@motherjones.com. We may feature your responses in a future column. 

Recharge is a weekly newsletter full of stories that will energize your inner hellraiser. Sign up at the bottom of the story.

  • A dream come true. Her entire life—6,567 days—had been spent in foster care. Just days before she would “age out” of the foster care system at 18, C’Nai Lange was adopted into a loving family.

    “It’s just the best,” said the Wayne State student, who has has lived with her two moms, Lisa and Kathy Lange, since June 2017. She says she got support, therapy, a steady schedule, and guidance. “Without them, I really don’t know where I’d be today.”

    Friends and family gathered at the courthouse for the formal adoption ceremony, some carrying signs. One partially read: “DNA does not make a family—love does.” Another: “We did not give you the gift of life—life gave us the gift of you.”

    Thanks to Recharge reader Karen Weintraub for suggesting this story. (Detroit Free Press)

  • ‘I’ll never be silent.’ Vietnamese blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh wanted to bring awareness to toxic waste dumps and people who died in police custody. In 2016, she was sentenced to 10 years in jail for “anti-state propaganda.”

    Last week, she was freed early, and she requested to leave the country with her family. At least 55 people in Vietnam have been imprisoned this year for their reporting, protests, or comments on social media.

    Arriving in Houston, she told well-wishers that she would never stay silent about human rights in her home country. “I will continue to raise my voice until there is human rights in Vietnam, real human rights,” she said. (The Guardian)

  • Look at their faces. Mark Loughney sketched and painted long before he ended up in prison. Now, he uses his skills to draw portraits of his fellow inmates.

    He’s drawn 500 portraits—something that he notes is “is not even a drop in the bucket” of America’s 2.4 million imprisoned people—that have been shown at two galleries this year.

    Loughney, who was sent to prison for setting a building on fire, says the drawings were a way to return to an old passion—while also trying to help. He sends some of his art proceeds to victim advocacy organizations, and he also asks others to donate. “This is a way that I am able to put my feelings of remorse into a tangible form,” he wrote. (The Marshall Project)

  • A surprise at the finish line. Oregon runner Justin Gallegos noticed a film crew when he and other competitors completed a cross-country race. Gallegos, who has cerebral palsy, had no idea the crew was there for him—or that, when he finished the race, Nike would offer him a contract as a professional runner.

    This video is extraordinary. Thanks to readers Karen Wickre and Neil Parekh for recommending it. (Sports Illustrated)

Have a Recharge story of your own or an idea to make this column better? Fill out the form below or send me a note to me at recharge@motherjones.com.