Book Boutique

Wilmington’s latest Little Free Library is also eye-catching art

Located at West Street between West 13th and 14th, the tiny library was built by Glenn Kocher and painted by artist Natasha Poppe. Photos provided.

Among the few benefits of the pandemic has been the growth of Little Free Libraries. Started just 12 years ago in Hudson, Wis., Little Free Libraries are book-sharing boxes, located in front yards or public areas, that provide 24/7 access to books for adults and children.

“[We] saw growth in the network over the last year, especially as people were looking for ways to connect and share books during social distancing and while schools and public libraries were closed,” says Margret Aldrich, director of communications for the nonprofit.

Northern New Castle County has kept pace with the national trend: at least four LFLs were created in Wilmington and Newark during the pandemic.

The latest and most eye-catching of these is the one at West Street between West 13th and 14th streets. The unique LFL is the product of the Midtown Brandywine Book Club and artist Natasha Poppe, a transplanted Minnesotan.

Poppe moved from St. Paul to Wilmington with her husband in 2019, after a 33-year career as an art teacher. While the LFLs were plentiful in St. Paul, with one on virtually every block in some neighborhoods, Poppe discovered that wasn’t the case in Wilmington. So she was delighted when a member of her book club suggested during a Zoom meeting that the club sponsor one.

Poppe set to work designing an LFL that imitated the three-story homes lining the streets in her neighborhood near Wilmington Hospital. Her sketch was approved by the neighborhood association, and the project got underway in November.

A book club member’s husband, Glenn Kocher, offered his services as a woodworker. Using Poppe’s plan, he transformed an old kitchen cabinet, adding a roof and shingles, into a one-of-a-kind LFL. After he sanded and primed it, Poppe added an artistic paint job.

County Executive Matt Meyer and City Council members Michelle Harlee and James Spadola, all supporters of the mini-libraries, attended an informal dedication ceremony on May 6. The library is located next to a pocket park that opened last August, thanks to 4th District Neighborhood Planning Council funds.

LFLs are making inroads in a growing literacy crisis. Today in the United States, more than 30 million adults cannot read or write above a third-grade level. Studies have repeatedly shown that books in the hands of children have a meaningful impact on improving literacy. The more books in or near the home, the more likely a child will learn and love to read, but two out of three children living in poverty have no books to call their own.

Any individual or organization interested in sponsoring a Little Free Library can get information at the website — LittleFreeLibrary.org. No “handiness” is required; the ready-made libraries are easy to assemble, and they are priced moderately.

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