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Little libraries to pop up in Willmar parks

Five of these Little Free Libraries will be installed this summer at Willmar parks, so readers of all ages can take a book or leave a book. The United Way of West Central Minnesota, with funding from the Willmar Kiwanis Club and help from area businesses, will put the libraries up and stock them with books. (SHELBY LINDRUD | TRIBUNE)

WILLMAR — The United Way has always been a champion of both early childhood education and literacy, and this summer the United Way of West Central Minnesota is joining those two causes together with the installation of several Little Free Libraries across Willmar.

“We’re getting books to where the kids are,” said James Miller, United Way of West Central Minnesota executive director.

The plan is to install five wooden little libraries in city parks such as Rice, Bria’s Playground and Robbins Island and fill them with books. Park visitors are invited to take a book, either to read while at the park or to bring home. They then can return the book to one of those little libraries or leave a new one for other people to enjoy.

“Leave a book, take a book,” Miller said.

The focus of the libraries will be on children and young families, to bring books to them and hopefully spread the importance and joy of reading.

“We’re putting them in parks where we see congregations of children and families. Parks seem like the great place,” Miller said.

Research has shown that the earlier children are introduced to reading and the more practice they get, the better they’ll do in school.

“The best time to invest in kids and their education is early on. Getting them on the right start,” Miller said.

Books will be provided by United Way and community members. Miller said United Way does have books available, but will also be holding book drives. Readers can also put books in the little libraries as well. All books are welcome, for children, teenagers and adults. Miller wants everyone, of all ages to use the libraries.

“We’re going to keep them as full as we can,” Miller said.

One of the five libraries was built at the wood shop at the Willmar Community and Activities Center. The remaining four were provided by Little Free Library, a Wisconsin based nonprofit organization established in 2012 to spread the little free libraries across the world. The funds for the libraries came from a grant from the Willmar Kiwanis Club, Miller said.

Miller said area businesses and organizations, such as the Willmar Kiwanis, were approached to decorate a library.

Miller presented the program Tuesday to the Willmar City Council Public Works and Public Safety Committee. The committee passed a motion to support the idea and the Willmar City Council will be presented the program at Monday’s meeting.

“We wanted to make sure we did it the right way. They understand the value of what we want to do,” Miller said.

The plan is to install the libraries in the parks by mid-July. If all goes well this summer, more could be added in the future. Miller hopes the United Way will be able to expand the program across its coverage area, which includes all of Kandiyohi County and cities in Renville, Swift, Meeker and Chippewa counties.

“We need to get them out there,” Miller said.

As part of the Little Free Library program, Willmar’s five libraries will be part of the international free library community, which numbers nearly 40,000 little libraries across the globe. Official Little Free Libraries include a placard on each individual library, are registered and are listed on the organization’s world map at littlefreelibrary.org, which shows where all the libraries are located. Currently there is one little library registered in Willmar, one in New London and one in Kerkhoven.

“I’ve seen them all over,” Miller said.

Little Free Library has dozens of libraries registered in Minnesota.

Besides getting young children ready for school, Miller wants the little libraries to spread a love of reading and learning to the masses, one book at a time.

“It’s the opportunity to get away and read a bit. Books are a great escape. Take a break, imagine and dream,” Miller said.

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