Little library, big goals

Front yard structure in I.C. lets people borrow Iowa-linked books

The first Little Free Library in Iowa sits in the front yard of Christine and Chuck Rohret’s Iowa City home. The small s
The first Little Free Library in Iowa sits in the front yard of Christine and Chuck Rohret’s Iowa City home. The small structure, made out of wood from a 120-year-old barn, allows community members to borrow and exchange books for free. (Christine Rohret photo)

IOWA CITY — Christine Rohret’s front yard is of the average sort: home to a few trees, shrubs — and now, a library.

Rohret is steward to Iowa’s first Little Free Library, a small structure that looks a bit like an oversized birdhouse. The miniature barn holds 25 to 30 books and opened to the public two weeks ago for free book exchange or borrowing.

The front-yard library at 2305 Banbury St. NE is one of hundreds like it in the United States, Canada and a handful of other countries as part of the Little Free Library non-profit organization. Run by a “tiny group of volunteers,” the project started in Hudson, Wis., with a goal of promoting literacy and a love for books.

Rohret hopes her mini library will do just that.

“I just see it as another avenue for promoting literacy, and it’s a fun way for all ages,” said Rohret, 61, who teaches part time in the Clear Creek Amana school district.

But Rohret’s little library might not be alone in the state for long. According to a news release, the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature has partnered with Little Free Library to open more sites throughout the city. Each library gets a plaque and is listed on an official map.

City of Literature organizers and volunteers plan to help promote and advance the project by holding special events with authors and publishers as well as staging Little Free Library design competitions.

The addition of more small libraries is Rohret’s goal, too.

“I could see them all over the state,” she said. “(I see them) in rural areas, I see them at schools, I see them in many businesses. We know the importance of literacy from a very young age ... I’m hoping it will increase literacy in our state, as well, in the long term.”

The process to build Rohret’s library started in August, when her sisters spent their visit to Iowa City making birdhouses out of wood from a 120-year-old barn torn down on the property. A few weeks later, her sister called from Minneapolis to suggest she use the wood to build a Little Free Library like many in that area.

Rohret and her husband, Chuck, got designs from the Little Free Library’s website to construct the miniature barn. The Altrusa International Club of Iowa City has provided some financial help for the project, she said.

After the couple tested the structure in their backyard to make sure it was weatherproof, they were ready to open the library.

Like many of the Little Free Libraries across the country, Rohret’s has a theme: “All Things Iowa.” All of the books in the library have Iowa-linked topics, she said, or are written by Iowa authors. She and her husband also plan to use the wood to build more barn-themed Little Free Libraries people can use across the state.

She said the Iowa theme is, in part, a tribute to her 90-year-old father, a successful farmer who taught himself to read.“He instilled that love of reading in all of us, and I just want to continue that cycle,” she said.

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