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Frank Gray

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Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
The Little Free Library near Nebraska Elementary has been vandalized. The glass was broken and grafitti was sprayed on the side.

Not even a free library sheltered from vandals

The Little Free Library concept has really caught on, perhaps because it’s just so easy to do.

We’ve written about the little free libraries, which started in a town in Wisconsin and quickly spread not only all around the country but also all around the world.

Build a miniature schoolhouse, about the size of a mailbox, put it on a post in your yard, or a park, or an esplanade, and fill it with books. The idea is that people can take the books they like, maybe bring them back or contribute a book they don’t want.

The little boxes have become gathering spots in some places, and, amazingly enough, people respect them.

The downtown Rotary club put one up awhile back, and when they visited it a while after it was introduced, all the books had disappeared.

“We thought, ‘Oh, no,’ ” said Candace Schuler, a club board member. “But then a couple of days later, all kinds of books were back.” People were contributing, and they had become impromptu caretakers of the little libraries, contributing their own books.

Then a bunch of students majoring in education at the University of Saint Francis decided to put up a little free library of their own, along Main Street at the back of the Nebraska Elementary School playground, just a little bit west of the Redwood Inn.

As education majors they wanted to gear the little library toward children, so they picked out books for kids.

Well, I got a call from Nancy Hankee, a faculty member at Saint Francis, and she was troubled. Most of the books in that little library were gone. That in itself wasn’t bad. It could mean that kids in the neighborhood were taking them home and reading. That’s exactly what they are supposed to do.

But someone had also smashed the window on the front door of the library, which was intended to protect the books from the weather, and someone had painted some nasty graffiti on the side.

“It was so upsetting,” Hankee said.

For a little library, that was rare. “Even in the most difficult areas they aren’t damaged,” Hankee said.

Oh, there was a case in Minnesota where a little library was vandalized and had to be moved, Schuler said, but by and large, it’s uncommon enough to be unheard of.

Well, I told Hankee, this little library is sort of out of the way. I had to drive around the block twice before I spotted it.

Maybe, I said, if we talk about it, the people in the neighborhood will become more aware of the little library and start watching out for it and chasing off vandals. It’s not a rich area, but it’s not a bad neighborhood, I told her.

One can only hope. Either that or Nebraska will be known as practically the only neighborhood in America where a little free library couldn’t make it.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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