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Wichita’s first Little Free Library opens in North Riverside

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, June 18, 2012, at 3:46 p.m.
  • Updated Monday, June 18, 2012, at 6:55 p.m.

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This story was informed by sources in The Wichita Eagle’s Public Insight Network. To become a news source, go to Kansas.com/publicinsight.

In North Riverside, at 1450 N. Salina, a passersby might spot a miniature white house with a gray roof and blue trim, suspended in someone’s yard like a large birdhouse.

It is Wichita’s first registered Little Free Library, one of several hundred miniature libraries around the world, where people can pick up or donate books as they wish.

The library’s owner is Rochelle Wilson, 59, a retired book business owner who wanted to continue a lifelong passion for books at her own pace.

In March, Wilson said she was listening to the NPR show “All Things Considered,” when she heard a story that caught her attention.

Todd Bol of Wisconsin wanted to honor his mother, a former schoolteacher and book lover who had died a decade before. So in 2010, he built a miniature library, filled it with books and placed it outside his house for people to use as they wanted.

With a friend, Bol started promoting the idea. In two years, Little Free Library became a network that spread through at least 40 states and 20 countries under the motto, “Take a book, return a book.”

“I listened, and I was intrigued,” Wilson said. “I was like, ‘Oh, this is something I could do!’”

Wilson had a 25-year career working with books. She owned a used books store at 21st and West Street. A decade ago, she transformed it into an online store, selling used books through networks such as Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. At the end of last year, she said she decided she wanted to retire and started winding down her book business.

But after she heard the NPR story and visited the Little Free Library website (www.littlefreelibrary.org), Wilson thought that the miniature library could be a fun way to use her passion and skills. She contacted her cousin, Jess Maus, and they started planning the library.

They used one of the plans from the Little Free Library website, to which they added their personal touches. Maus wanted a chimney; Wilson wanted a flower box. The whole thing took about a month.

After the library was done, Wilson filled it with books from the inventory of her online business. There were children’s books and fiction and nonfiction books. Wichita’s first Little Free Library opened May 31. The first night, three young boys stopped by and looked at the books. She talked to them, although she usually tries to refrain from doing it.

“I kind of try not to bug people,” she said. “I don’t want to make people self-conscious or anything.”

Although Wilson and her husband are the official “stewards” of the library, she tries to encourage other neighbors to look out for the library and take ownership in it. And she also hopes that her example will inspire other Wichitans to build their own libraries.

“I would love for Riverside and North Riverside to have them sprout,” she said. “I think it would be great if it was one of those things where people could drive by and see one and not wonder, ‘What the heck is that?’”

Reach Simina Mistreanu at 316-269-6791 or smistreanu@wichitaeagle.com.

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