December 8, 2015; DNAinfo Chicago

In Edgewater, Illinois, you can get a good book while out for a stroll, because one or more of the 35 or so libraries is never very far. The little free libraries began to appear a few years ago when the local library was being rebuilt.

Tom Welch, who built the first of them, said that he expected to see it last six weeks at most, but instead of dying, it apparently went forth and multiplied.

“We really look at this as just one part of the expression of Edgewater, and it’s an expression that flourishes,” he said. “We look at it as not 35 different Little Free Libraries, but one idea about literacy in Edgewater that sprouted up in 35 different places.”

The little free libraries were not the community’s first solution to the crisis of being temporarily without their regular library. Karen Dreyfuss and volunteers first formed Edgewater Reads, parking a school bus full of books in the parking of the local armory where community members could deposit or take out a book anytime they pleased. But then the little free libraries followed and endeared themselves to the community in an unexpected way.

Now, even though the new library is built and open, residents are still popping them up around town. Neighborhoods held “build days” to help residents erect their own, and a local business, Edgewater Workbench, created plaques with “Edgewater Reads” for every little library. In a way, the little libraries have become a strong, homegrown, character-defining part of the community.—Ruth McCambridge