Little Free Libraries foster community connections in Old Orchard 

Old Orchard neighborhood is littered with Little Free Libraries, small houses filled with books for whomever passes by, and residents Heather Meyer and Brooke Padgett were the first to start the trend in their much loved neighborhood. 

Meyer says, “On a roadtrip to Milwaukee a few years back, we came across our first Free Library in a neighborhood similar to our own in Old Orchard. I made a mental note that it was something we had to try. Fast forward to the summer of 2014. With our friends Brooke and Dave Padgett–who lived in Old Orchard as well–we set out to get them built and up before that summer was over.”

Padgett, who is an elementary special education teacher, mentions, “I first heard of the Little Free Libraries from my friend Noelle, who lives in Atlanta. She asked if I would want to do something like that because she knows my passion for children [and] reading, [as well as] my tendency to do creative things. A year later, Dave and I actually did it–procrastination at its finest!”

Both Padgett and Meyer feel strongly about reading and early literacy, but they also wanted to foster connections within their community. The two moms agree the neighborhood response has been overwhelmingly positive. Padget exclaims, “Our community loves it, so much so that…Old Orchard now has 6 in our neighborhood alone! It makes my heart so very happy when I look out and see people sitting on [the] bench in our front yard, with and without kids, taking a break to read. We have even added a little fairy garden and a chalkboard to sign when [people] visit.”

Meyer expounds, “I worried a bit that the concept would lose its luster. It hasn’t, and in fact, [it] has encouraged a handful of other Free Libraries to pop up in Old Orchard. You will see folks walking with bookbags on library tours from time to time.” Grove Patterson Academy, where Meyer’s daughter Ella usd to attend, also has a Free Little Library right outside the main entrance, thanks to a joint venture with Washington Church on Central Avenue. 

The Free Little Libraries have provided numerous intangible benefits to their small community. Meyer explains, “[The Library] gives us a reason to connect with folks. It reinforces the concept of sharing with no strings attached. It is showing our young daughter that books are so important to us that we built a funky little house for them and perched that house in our front yard.” Padgett adds, “[We] wanted to add to our incredible sense of community that we have in Old Orchard.”

The motto behind Free Little Libraries is “Take a book, leave a book,” so the genres vary. Meyer tries to keep an even selection of children and adult books, but depending on what (and if) people leave books, the ratio may change. Her current selection includes Socks by Beverly Cleary and Midnight in Peking by Paul French. Padgett has Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain and Junie B. Jones by Beverly Cleary, as well as several children’s chapter books and toddler reading.

Padgett jokes that she does, however, have to keep a close eye on their library selections: “We have some jokester neighbors [who] enjoy leaving interesting reading material, so I check often so that there’s nothing too off-the-wall for kids to find!”