When Chloe Rigg first had a conversation with a co-worker at the West Warwick Public Library about the “Little Free Library” movement – which is catching on all over the world – she had never heard of it before, but as she listened she knew she liked the idea a lot.
Chloe shared the idea with her husband Jim, who researched the concept and the non-profit group that shares its name. He liked it, too, and the couple decided to join in on the “take a book, leave a book” community reading phenomenon.
“We both love to read, but we wanted to help get kids away from television and video games,” Jim said. “We knew that if they were hooked on a free book, they might read that instead.”
All over the world, people like Chloe and Jim are setting up a “Little Free Library” – a birdhouse-like receptacle on their property housing books that are free for the taking, and allowing readers to donate books they’re no longer reading.
The concept has spread like wildfire, and Little Free Libraries can be found from coast to coast and in various countries around the world. One look at the Little Free Library online map will show readers where the closest library is to them, and also guide them in planning their own. Once a library is completed and ready to be installed, the owners can register it on the site and get a charter number, and their library will be placed on the map with all the others.
Seeing the website, the map and all the Little Free Libraries worldwide got Chloe and Jim excited, and they decided to move forward with their own, which would be housed at their home on Garden Street in Cranston, right near Dutemple Elemenary School.
Building plans and blueprints are available on the website, and actual completed libraries can be purchased for a fee, but Jim planned to build theirs himself. In order to do that, they first needed to get the lumber for their little library.
“I went up to the construction site for the new Cumberland Farms and talked to the general manager there, asking if I could have any of their scraps. He was very generous and told me anything that was going out in the next day’s trash was free for the taking, so I got a lot of my lumber that way,” Jim said. “The rest of it I got from a friend who is a general contractor and was working on several building sites himself. He offered to go ‘dumpster diving’ for me several times, and that’s how I was able to get all of the materials for our library.”
All told, it took Jim over a year to gather the lumber he needed to start building the library. By then, Rhode Island was in the midst of a harsh winter, so Jim and Chloe waited until the weather warmed before sending him out to his workshop to begin construction.
“By this past spring, the weather was warm and he was finally able to get it built and up,” Chloe said. “We registered it on the website so that we’d get our official charter number and sign, and get on the map, and then we needed to fill it with books. I told my co-workers at the library and my director, Brigitte Hopkins, and everyone was so generous.”
Jim and Chloe received book donations from the West Warwick Public Library and the Friends of the Library group, from the Cranston Public Library, and from a used bookstore.
“I even started going to yard sales, and one woman told me that if she didn’t sell off all her books at her yard sale, she’d bring them to me, and she did. I came home and found them on my back deck,” Chloe said.
Before they knew it, the Riggs’ very own Little Free Library at 103 Garden St. in Cranston Rhode Island was officially open for business.
“We finally had it up and running in July,” Chloe said. “Jim goes out and checks on it every day to see who has been by or if any books have been taken or left. The very first day we had some traffic, our neighbor saw us put it up and she asked what it was, and when we told her, she said she thought it was just wonderful.”
An unexpected treat has been checking the little notebook that Jim put inside the library with a pencil, to read the messages that their patrons and other passers-by have left.
“That has truly been the heart of this whole thing,” he said. “Those messages have provided us with a lot of positive feedback, and we really enjoy seeing who’s come by and what they’ve written.”
Although it’s been in existence just a short time, the Riggs’ Little Free Library has garnered the attention of some fun guests, and they’re enjoying that aspect of it as well.
“We’ve had families come by, but we’ve also had a man walking a pot-bellied pig come and visit our library,” Chloe said. “We’ve even had some raccoons come and check it out. My son works third shift, and he came home and found the door wide open and the books all over the ground like someone had vandalized it. Then he saw raccoons near his lunchbag on the stairs nearby, and we realized that was what had gotten into the library, too.”
It was one particular visitor that recently tugged on Jim’s heartstrings and caused him to work even harder to make the library that much better.
“One day a man drove by and stopped to look at it, drove away and came back with his wife and son who was about eight years old,” he said. “When they came back as a family, the wife took a book, and the boy came running up to the Little Free Library with a big smile on his face, but he left without a book and with a very long face. We didn’t really have anything for a little boy his age.”
The very next day, Jim decided to get to work to change that.
“I emailed four publishers, three in New York City and one in San Francisco, to explain what we were doing and see if they had any books for younger readers, boys especially, that they’d be willing to donate,” he said. “I got three no’s almost immediately, but the fourth one I didn’t hear back from for almost a week and a half.”
Chronicle Books in San Francisco finally responded to Jim’s request, saying they were very interested in donating books to his Little Free Library, that they’d even recently given away a Little Free Library themselves, and that they were hand-picking a box of donations specifically for the K-12 reading range that the Riggs seemed to have more trouble finding.
“I immediately went outside and put out a new sign on the library that said ‘coming soon,’” Jim said.
With the start of school just around the corner, and the summer season about to come to a close, the Riggs are excited to see what new stories they’ll have to share about the visitors to their Little Free Library as the days go by. In what began as a plan to help share their love of reading as a gift for others, the Riggs have been given an even bigger gift of their own – a connection with neighbors and readers near and far, and a tangible record of these connections through the messages they leave just inside the library’s glass door.
“It’s truly what makes it all worthwhile,” Chloe said. “It’s seeing the physical proof that people are coming and they are enjoying our library.”
To visit the Riggs’ Little Free Library or to leave a donation of books on their back porch, visit 103 Garden St. in Cranston. For more information on the Little Free Library movement, visit www.littlefreelibrary.org.