How Little Free Libraries Came to Be

For Todd Bol, the creator of the first Little Free Library, inspiration was triggered by misfortune and a little bit of self-discovery.

  • Little Free Library
    How does such a little idea grow to be such a worldwide success?
    Photo by Flickr/Tony Webster
  • Little Free Library Book
    “The Little Free Library Book,” by Margret Aldrich, is the story of some of the most charming libraries, as told through multiple accounts of the growing movement.
    Cover courtesy Coffee House Press

  • Little Free Library
  • Little Free Library Book

Have you stumbled across a Little Free Library in your neighborhood? In The Little Free Library Book (Coffee House Press, 2015), author Margret Aldrich shares the information she gathered from 70 Little Free Library stewards from Uganda to India, Georgia to California, and shares the stories of Little Free Libraries promoting literacy in underserved communities and bringing neighbors together. This excerpt, which shares how Todd Bol came up with the idea for a little free library in Hudson, Wisconsin, is from Chapter 2, “Get Started.”

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The Beginning of Little Free Libraries

The best ideas can come to us at the most unexpected times, swimming to the surface unbidden but welcome. For Todd Bol, the first Little Free Library was one of those charmed ideas, triggered by a lost job, a cross-country road trip, and a garage sale.

Bol has an unflappable entrepreneurial spirit and an idea generator that runs on overdrive: for every three good ideas he has, he’s leaving thirty on the table. But when he was laid off in 2009 from the company he started with Global Scholarship Alliance, he was in his midfifties and not sure what to do next. “I was devastated when they closed down the Wisconsin office, which I thought was my life’s dream and the accumulation of everything for me careerwise,” he says.

 Bol’s wife, Susan, suggested that he go away for a while to clear his head, so he packed his bags and traveled around the country for a month. “It was a good, soul-searching thing to do,” he says, “kind of a modern-day version of Easy Rider—except in a minivan.”

After he returned home, Bol got to work turning his garage into an office, putting in windows and removing a vintage 1920s garage door. He had a talent for finding new uses for old objects and thought the wood was too nice to get rid of—he wanted to do something respectful with it. After staring at the door for a few months, Bol decided to build a model one-room schoolhouse in honor of his mother, June Bol, a former teacher and a lifelong reader. As he thought about his mom during the construction process, he said to himself, “Maybe we’ll put books in it.”

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