MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Build it, and they will come - in this case, a little wooden box on a post. The man credited with building the first little library died yesterday. Todd Bol was 62 and had pancreatic cancer. Nine years ago, he used wood from his old garage door to build the first little library at his home in Hudson, Wis. Now there are tens of thousands of little libraries in 85 countries. Author Miranda Paul got to know Todd Bol and has written a children's book due out next year called "Little Libraries, Big Heroes." She joins me now from her home in Green Bay.
MIRANDA PAUL: Thank you.
KELLY: What gave Todd Bol this idea to build a little library in the first place?
PAUL: Well, Todd's mother passed away. And his mother had been a schoolteacher. And when he was growing up as a student who very much struggled, his mother had always been encouraging. So he built the first Little Free Library as a one-room schoolhouse to honor her.
KELLY: And was it a hit right from the start?
PAUL: Actually, no. Very few...
KELLY: Oh, no.
PAUL: ...People passed by. But he talked with his friend Rick Brooks. And so they built a whole bunch of them, sort of planting them like seeds from Minneapolis to Madison to Chicago. And it was only after that that it started to catch on.
KELLY: We had him on this program six years ago, and he was talking about the effects of the little libraries once people did start catching on and start using them.
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TODD BOL: One of the things that always just amazes me is how many people hug them when we actually put them in. We constantly get emails that say, I've met more people than I have in 20 years; people are always happy; my favorite thing to do is sit on my porch and read a book and watch people open the library.
KELLY: What do you think it was about the little libraries that attracted people when all of us have libraries - big libraries - that we could go to?
PAUL: Todd really looked at reading and sharing stories as a doorway to forming relationships. Usually when I spoke with Todd in person or on the phone, he expressed how energized he was about projects, especially those that had to do with youth or people who didn't normally read getting reading.
KELLY: Tell me about some of the places where these libraries now are. Tell me some of the wilder places, where I would not expect to find a little library.
PAUL: In some places where there has been either violence or a disaster, these Little Free Libraries have come up as sort of a little spring of hope - along the U.S.-Mexico border, there's 150 of them; in prisons in Wisconsin and other states; in the Kyangwali Refugee Settlement in western Uganda; at a hospital in Ireland; near a schoolyard in South Sudan. These Little Free Libraries have popped up and brought communities together.
KELLY: People, of course, take books from the little libraries, but you also get to leave them. I have to say, that's what I love about it. I love if I've got a book and I really loved it, sometimes going and sticking it in there and then I'll, you know - when I'm out jogging the neighborhood the next day, seeing if somebody has taken it. And if they have, I feel this little sense of pleasure that somebody else is going to get to read this book that I just loved.
PAUL: I love that idea, too. I'm constantly having a few books in my car so that when I'm going somewhere, if I see a Little Free Library and I want to put a book in there, you can share that love of reading with another community, whether it's your own or somewhere else.
KELLY: You were in touch with Todd Bol when he was in hospice. Did he feel like he'd done what he'd set out to do?
PAUL: Well, I learned there was so much more to what he was doing then being a champion for books or for reading. He was being a champion for communities - new friendships, new ideas, new projects - springing to life as a result of his idea. That's what he wanted.
KELLY: Well, Miranda Paul, thank you for talking to us.
PAUL: Thank you for having me.
KELLY: She's author of the forthcoming book "Little Libraries, Big Heroes." And we were talking about little libraries founder Todd Bol, who died yesterday.
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