What’s Springing up in Stanislaus?

By Susan Rich, Assistant Superintendent of Administrative Services

Stanislaus County Office of Education


Eagle Scout Calvin Flores-Sullivan built, planted, and filled one for the Robertson Road neighborhood in Modesto.

Retired teacher Toby Ayres sponsored one in her front yard in Oakdale.

Students at the Stanislaus Military Academy have built over thirty for community agencies.

What is it?  A Little Free Library. Currently, all fifty states in the US and 40 countries have these new phenomena.  They rather look like bird houses on steroids. Typically, the “house” is a wooden structure with shelves, affixed to a post that is buried into the ground or bolted to a cement walkway.  A plexi-glass door allows those walking by to sneak a peek at all the alluring titles housed in the structure with instructions inscribed on a plaque that read:  “Take a Book.  Return a Book.”  There are two registered in Turlock, one in Patterson, and fifteen so far in Modesto, but there are more coming.  Finally, something worthwhile is “all the rage.”   

In 2009, Todd Bol, a Wisconsin resident, decided to honor his mother, a book lover and former school teacher, with a container that looked like a school house stuffed with books for the taking.  What began as a tribute was soon to take off world-wide. This November 4, 2016, Little Free Libraries registered its 50,000th library.   

These mini-libraries have sprung up where natural disasters have landed.  After a flood, after a fire, it is not unusual for someone to sponsor such a library to ensure that children and adults have access to books when their primary sources have suddenly disappeared.  Little Free Libraries have been placed where neighborhoods are far away from public libraries, and transportation is not always affordable or accessible.   Little Free Libraries have been placed in zoos, on playgrounds, on school campuses, and in parks.  Some kind soul sponsors the library, putting it in place and keeping it filled with books.   And hopefully, that sponsor also registers the Little Free Library via the instructions provided on

The website is a treasure trove.  You can buy a little free library.  You can access plans and build one yourself.  You can utilize the map and discover all the locations of registered libraries near you.  There are beautiful pictures of incredibly designed, beautifully painted, and artistically rendered versions across the nation.  My personal favorite is the one a colleague spotted in Hawaii, topped with a thatched roof and a gecko painted as if it were poised momentarily on the front door.

At the very core of their existence, the Little Free Libraries are about being kind, giving back to your community, and encouraging literacy.  Eventual success, not only in school, but in the world of work, is largely dependent on the ability to read.  Once you google it, you had better be able to read what Wikipedia has to say about it.   Sharing books builds community, and sponsoring the point of exchange is just a nice thing to do.

Stanislaus READS!  (a local iteration of the National Grade Level Reading Campaign) has been hard at work planting little libraries.  The Stanislaus Military Academy (SMA) landed a grant from the Stanislaus Community Foundation for $5,000 and, with those funds, constructed over 30, some for indoor placement and some for outdoor.  Some of those were painted by Great Valley Academy students, some by teachers in the pilot schools of Stanislaus READS!   Principal Steve Kuykendall got his unpainted library on a Friday, and by the next Monday he had adorned it in his school colors and was putting it up at the front of Moon School in Waterford.

It’s a win-win for everyone.  Ron Kunnen, who teaches the SMA Wood Construction class, shared that “This has been a journey.  Students have learned to be precise and how to take it apart and redo it, if the parts don’t fit.  They have mastered the use of a variety of tools like the compound miter saw and heavy duty staplers.  They have learned tricks of the trade, like drilling pilot holes before hammering.  Their quality control has improved, and the end product is real quality.”

Amy Tomás, the SMA cadet Kunnen describes as “the heart of the program,” says this about her experience building Little Free Libraries:  “I am getting blessed.  Giving to people who don’t have that much, helping other people out … I am blessed.”  And that’s a lesson well beyond measuring, cutting and hammering.

Photo: Students in the Wood Construction class at SMA with instructor Ron Kunnen.