by Dawn Feddersen-Poindexter
Amy Stemler of Otsego has been collecting children’s books for decades. She loves books and reading and knows, as a mother and a preschool teacher, what tremendous learning opportunities they provide for children.
So when she heard about the Little Free Library Program that has been popping up in cities all over the country, she knew it was the perfect time to share her love of books with her own community.
“I knew there wasn’t anything like this around here and I thought, ‘Oh, what a fun idea. I could definitely do that,’” Stemler recalled.
The Little Free Library works on the honor system with a box full of books in a public place that people can check in and out at their leisure.
Stemler approached the Otsego City Council with the idea in April. They were on board immediately and asked her to put together eight little libraries to be placed throughout the city. She paired up with Ross Demant, Otsego’s recently hired parks and recreation manager, and the pair decided that Otsego parks would make great locations for the little libraries.
Her husband’s co-worker built the first little library box, which is in the shape of a house, a few feet tall and wide, and sits atop a pole. Stemler had her preschool class help decorate the outside with their handprints.
The first Little Free Library was placed in Prairie Park in June and has proven very popular.
“It has been huge,” Demant said. “Amy very diligently fills it up and the thing gets emptied right away. Then she comes back and fills it up again.”
Stemler says she has gone through about 150 books so far. She has more than 10 boxes full of books ready to go into rotation when they’re needed. She accepts book donations at Fitness 101 and shops for books at garage sales.
She also hopes to collect a lot of books at the Otsego Festival in September, where she’ll have a table set up to accept donations and educate residents on the program.
Once books are donated, Stemler then takes them home and looks through each book to make sure it’s in good shape and appropriate for families. Her focus, she says, is on books for toddlers through elementary school-age kids. But she’s gotten plenty of books for adults donated and includes them in the little library, too.
Plans for her second location are nearly complete. Otsego City Council Member Doug Schroeder built two more of the little library houses. A prospective Eagle Scout is working on several more. One of the houses will be placed in School Knoll Park in August. The location for the next house is still being decided upon, but Stemler is pushing for somewhere within a housing development.
Demant says that so far there have been no issues with the little libraries suffering vandalism or any other kind of damage. Stemler believes the program is going very well, also, but wishes more of the books were being returned.
“You take a book, you return the book. It’s supposed to be just like the library,” Stemler said. “My sister said to me that if someone kept a book it must mean they really liked it. So I try to think of it that way.”
She plans to keep the little libraries open until November, depending on the weather, when the houses will be removed and stored for the winter. Before that time comes, though, she looks forward to filling them full of holiday-themed books.
The Little Free Library is a labor of love for Stemler, who says she always wanted to have her own library. She enjoys the time and energy she puts into the project and hopes to grow the program into surrounding communities.
“I have time now that I’m an empty nester. This is my time to give back. I want kids to continue reading. I want to help make that happen,” she said.
Stemler’s next hurdle is to get more little library houses made. Anyone interested in building a Little Free Library House should contact Parks and Recreation Manager Ross Demant at 763-441-4414 for more information.