Options growing for readers through neighborhood libraries

March 22, 2014

By Neil Pierson

New: March 22, 11:14 a.m.

When Ann Backman retired last May from a 30-year nursing career at Seattle Children’s Hospital, she was looking for something to do in her spare time.

An idea came to Backman while she was thumbing through a University of Wisconsin alumni magazine. She read about the Little Free Library project, which originated in Wisconsin in 2009, and figured it would be fun to start her own location.

Backman, who has lived in Sammamish since 1991, asked her husband, John, to build the LFL as a birthday and Mothers Day present, and it officially opened March 10 at 2701 226th Ave. S.E. as the city’s fourth official LFL.

The concept is a simple one – anyone is allowed to take or give a book, free of charge, to the libraries, which are generally mailbox-sized and located on private residential properties. Stewards like Backman are encouraged to maintain the libraries and keep them fully stocked, and items often include bookplates for reader comments.

Backman’s home may prove to be an advantageous location, sitting just a block from Pine Lake Park, in a neighborhood that is filled with families.

“There’s a lot of back-and-forth runners, walkers, parents with strollers coming and going to the park,” Backman noted.

The LFL concept has grown exponentially over the past five years, with an estimated 10,000-12,000 locations worldwide and thousands more in the planning stages.

Anyone can become a steward by building their own library or purchasing a kit through the LFL website, www.littlefreelibrary.org. The site also provides maintenance and operations tips, and a place for stewards to register their libraries on a map.

Backman’s library has a few dozen books of various genres, and she’s in the process of drumming up support from her neighbors. While researching the project, she learned that a busy LFL can often go through 100 books a month.

Her family members, which include two children who graduate from Skyline High School, are voracious readers. Her daughter is a freshman at the University of Washington, and her son is going to start working on a master’s degree in library and information science in the fall at UW.

“The challenge my kids give their friends when they come over to visit is to try to find a room in our house that doesn’t have a book in it,” Backman said. “We’re very much a book family. I collect cookbooks. So I wasn’t worried about having enough (materials) to get it started, and even to keep it going.”

With the large number of families in her neighborhood, Backman is looking to keep her LFL stocked with children’s books.

Young adults also seem prevalent in the area, so keeping a mixture of genres is a goal.

The Back-mans have enjoyed their two decades as Sammamish residents – John was the last live-in ranger at Pine Lake Park, and their home has some historical significance.

“We think it was probably the old cook shack when they were logging up here,” Ann said. “(John) does a lot of work on the house, and every time he tears into it, he finds something. It’s kind of funky.”

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