Little Free Library Festival extolled literacy

Courtney Holmes cuts hair as a child reads him a book
Damon Hunter of Clean Cuts in St. Paul cuts hair as a child reads him a book Steve Floyd/MSR News

On Saturday, May 21, the first Little Free Library Festival took place in Minnehaha Park. The event was hosted by the Little Free Library, and organizers hope the event will be the start of many more annual events.

Community connectors and conversation starters would be a good way to describe the Little Free Library stations located in many neighborhoods. They are the brainchild of Todd Bol in partnership with Rick Brooks.

The legacy of the Little Free Library began in 2009 when Bol, a creative artisan, built a model of a one-room schoolhouse, not much bigger than a mailbox, as a tribute to his mother, a teacher with a love of reading. The model, located outside of Bol’s home in Wisconsin, was filled with books.

His neighbors loved it. So, along with the help of Rick Brooks, who had experience with youth, community development, education and social marketing, more mini-libraries like this were built.

The organization has a mission of promoting literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide as well as building a sense of community. The goal was to build 2,510 free libraries (in an attempt to match the numbers of public libraries supported by Andrew Carnegie).

That goal has been far surpassed. By January 2016, the total number of little free libraries built had reached over 36,000, with houses distributed all over the world.

Minnehaha Park, where a celebration of literacy and community took place, was filled with book lovers who were entertained by storytelling, performances, poetry, and library-building. Fun-filled learning and growing activities took place throughout the day.

Steve Floyd/MSR News

Events included a canine costume contest and parade and pop-up puppet shows. Stations included storytelling areas where Harry Potter books were being explored, and a Story Book Barber tent hosted by T. Mychael Rambo. At his station, Courtney Holmes cut children’s hair if they read a book to him while they sat in his barber seat.

Bol read a story about Holmes and was inspired by what he does for the community. With this inspiration, Bol is working with various groups, including the National Education Association, to create Action Book Clubs.

Girl 2
Steve Floyd/MSR News)

“These clubs are designed [around] books of community engagement, books that bring communities together [showing] how you help your family,” explained Bol. “The ideas is not only reading to kids, but identifying and creating books about engaging community and building community.”

Kristine Lindsey attended the event with her mother and daughter. “Coming here and seeing so many books that are inclusive for the entire family is awesome,” said Lindsey. “I just found out about this event yesterday, and I am so glad we decided to come. I hope things like this continue. It is so good for our community and for so many generations.”

Over 5,000 free books were donated to help feed the community more literary brain food. Books ranged from the Junie B. Jones series for youth to Alex Haley’s Roots and Happy by Pharrell Williams, adapted from his chart-topping single from the Minions movie. Selections included romance novels and recipe and dieting books. Visitors were allowed to take up to four free books home.

Leading up to this festival, the Minneapolis Police Department worked with kids and community members building the small libraries. “The department said they wanted to get involved in this right away,” said Bols. “The core of this is kids, community and cops. The idea is to bring in a wide breadth of community.”

Minneapolis police officers help build a Little Free Library
Minneapolis police officers help build a Little Free Library Steve Floyd/MSR News

To support building community at the event, Bols asked participants to reflect on “What are the kinds of books [that] should be in these libraries to bring the community together?”

Bol and the Little Free Library are just beginning to make waves. Little Free Library has a saying: “Take a Book, Read a Book, Return a Book, Repeat” — words to help improve the literacy in any and every community.


To find out more about the Little Free Library, check out the website at

Brandi Phillips welcomes all reader comments at


Updated 6/14/2016 to correctly identify Damon Hunter of Clean Cuts Barber Shop. We apologize for the error.