Hoffman Hall the newest site of a locally-built Little Free Library

little library
Officials from the Prairie du Chien Correctional Institution recently presented Hoffman Hall with its very own Little Free Library, which will give visitors to the recreational facility yet another activity to enjoy. Pictured with Prairie du Chien Parks and Recreation Director Mike Ulrich (second from right) are (from left) PDCCI representatives Dan Winkleski, deputy warden; Gary Boughton, warden; Chad Cline, carpentry instructor; and Ron Brewer, education director. (Photo by Correne Martin)

By Correne Martin

Over the past two years, around 120 Little Free Libraries have been constructed by inmates in the Prairie du Chien Correctional Institution’s carpentry class and distributed all over the world. Though there are already two such libraries in Prairie du Chien and more in other local communities, one of the small, wooden book boxes was delivered right next door to the medium-security prison last month.

Hoffman Hall was the recipient of the locally-made library. To get the Little Free Library there, Prairie du Chien Parks and Recreation Director Mike Ulrich contacted PDCCI and requested it. Officials at PDCCI were all for it and a few of them personally delivered it in late January. Warden Gary Boughton, Deputy Warden Dan Winkleski, Educational Director Ron Brewer and Carpentry Instructor Chad Cline were there for the presentation.

“We have been delivering these all over the world. It’s about time we have one in our own back yard,” Warden Boughton said.

“I thought it was a good idea—something we can offer while people are here. I thought it would make a neat amenity,” Ulrich stated.

Little Free Libraries are a “take a book, return a book” gathering place, where neighbors exchange their favorite literature and stories. They don’t require library cards or late fines, don’t insist that patrons whisper or stay quiet, and don’t mind if you do not return a book. Basically, a Little Free Library is a box full of books where anyone may stop by and pick up a book (or two) and bring back another book to share with others. Children and adults of all interests and backgrounds can share in the give and take. The libraries can fill up and empty over and over.

Each Little Free Library is a weatherproof house just big enough to hold 20 or 30 books like novels or non fiction, poetry or “how-to” volumes. Those that are officially registered withthe Little Free Library global network typically display the official charter sign and number from the Little Free Library organization.

PDCCI inmates make their libraries entirely out of wood from recycled pallets. They measure 24 inches on each side. Some are very simple while others have been complex in design—which is all dependent on the creator’s vision.

“We try to make them so they’re durable and will last a long time,” Cline said. “Most of them are located outside and are exposed to the elements.”

Ulrich said Hoffman Hall’s Little Free Library will sit inside the main lobby/lounge area of the recreational facility.

The book on the Little Free Library Project opened in 2009, when  Co-Founder Todd Bol, of Hudson,  built a model of a one-room schoolhouse as a tribute to his mother, a former school teacher who loved reading. He filled it with books and put it on a post in his front yard. His neighbors and friends loved it. He built several more and gave them away. Each one had a sign that said “Free Books.”

Rick Brooks, of Madison, whom he met at a seminar on promoting green practices and a vibrant local economy for Hudson, entered the picture as a colleague exploring potential social enterprises. The two saw opportunities to achieve a wide variety of goals for the common good.

Bol and Brooks were both at the Prairie du Chien Correctional Institution in 2012 when the inmates at the prison began constructing the libraries as part of a pilot program, which has also been supported by Southwest Tech’s Buildings, Maintenance and Construction program.  

“[These libraries] take books from people’s dusty book shelves and let them dance for the community. Oftentimes people want to share their favorites,” Bol said at that time. “There’s a tremendous satisfaction when you give something you treasure. These libraries made in Prairie du Chien will make thousands of people happy.”

In Feb. 2012, there were about 400 Little Free Libraries in existence around the world, in 22 states and seven countries. By August of that year, the organization had reached its initial goal of building 2,510 Little Free Libraries—as many as Andrew Carnegie. By January of 2014, the total number of registered Little Free Libraries in the world is conservatively estimated to be between 10,000 and 12,000, with thousands more being built.

The other two Little Free Libraries in Prairie du Chien are available at 506 Wacouta Ave. and one at the corner of 13th Street and Fowler. Each library has its own literary essence.
For more information, and to see a map of where they’re located around the world, visit LittleFreeLibrary.org.

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