Morton librarian encourages literacy with Little Free Library movement

By Elise Zwicky For Chronicle Media

Morton Junior High School eighth-grader Chloe Schonert stands next to a Little Free Library she built and maintains on Jefferson Street in downtown Morton. Chloe and her mother, Samantha, will participate in a program on Little Free Libraries at the Morton Public Library on Saturday, March 18. (Photo courtesy of the Morton Public Library)

A local librarian is on a mission to help people create Little Free Libraries where no library card is needed and overdue book fines don’t exist.

Morton Public Library Director Alissa Williams will facilitate a program on the worldwide Little Free Library program at 10 a.m. Saturday at the library at 315 W. Pershing in Morton.

“One of the initiatives of the library’s long-range plan is community engagement, so we thought this was a great way to encourage literacy and build community connections,” Williams said. She wants to match people who want to take care of Little Free Libraries with people who want to build them and businesses that want to host them.

While Williams is specifically hoping to see more Little Free Libraries pop up around Morton, the free program is open to anyone interested in starting one  anywhere in the Peoria area.

“I’m willing to help anyone who has an interest in this,” she said.

Little Free Library is a nonprofit organization based in Hudson, Wis., that “inspires a love of reading, builds community and sparks creativity by fostering neighborhood book exchanges around the world,” according to the group’s website at

Todd Bol of Hudson, Wis., built the first Little Free Library as a memorial tribute to his mother in 2009. He then partnered with Rick Brooks of Madison to brainstorm ideas that led to Little Free Libraries being installed around the world.

Most Little Free Libraries are placed in front yards, parks or near public businesses. They’re built to withstand weather and hold anywhere from 20 to 100 books. The Little Free Library website sells kits for building the birdhouse-like structure that holds the books, but there’s no standard size or shape. To officially be called a Little Free Library, it must be registered on the website and given an official sign and charter number.

There are currently more than 50,000 registered Little Free Libraries in every U.S. state and in 70 countries, according to the website.

A map on the website shows about 10 Little Free Libraries are registered in Peoria, including one at the Greater Peoria Family YMCA on North Fleming and one at the Illinois Math Academy on North University. Two are listed in Washington and Pekin, and one each in Creve Coeur, East Peoria and Dunlap.

Two Little Free Libraries opened last year in Morton. One is currently operated by the Morton Public Library and is located outside the Morton Pool off Idlewood. The second, built by a Morton Junior High school eighth-grader with help from her family, is located across from Eli’s Coffee Shop on Jefferson.

Thirteen-year-old Chloe Schonert and her mother, Samantha, will talk about the Little Free Library Chloe built and maintains during Saturday’s program at the Morton Public Library.

Chloe said her decision to build a Little Free Library grew from a Passion Project at her school in which students are asked to find a way to help better the community.

“I love to read and I love to share things with others that I find interesting, so I figured a Little Free Library would be a great way to do that,” Chloe said, adding that she first learned about them through an uncle who had one in his front yard in Milwaukee.

Because the Schonerts live out in the country, they approached village officials for help in finding a location on public property within Morton. Chloe also involved the community by asking people to vote on the design for her project. More than 100 people voted, choosing a teal polka dot design over pumpkin-themed designs.

With no woodworking experience, Chloe built her Little Free Library last summer with help from her mom, her dad Scott and her 9-year-old brother Tristan.

“Painting it was definitely my favorite part,” Chloe said.

The idea for a Little Free Library is for patrons to take a book and leave a book, but that concept didn’t catch on at first, the Schonerts said.

“We put in about 50 books to start, and very quickly we were down to 15. So we added some more and then quickly were down again,” Samantha said. “I think that was just because people weren’t aware it was there yet, so they’d see it and take a book, but they didn’t have a book to leave.”

About six months into the operation, books now tend to turn over about every two weeks, she added.

While not standard in Little Free Libraries, Chloe added a visitor’s log and has received notes from visitors who live as far away as New Mexico and Rhode Island.

Williams said the Morton Public Library will help seed new Little Free Libraries with a small collection of books that have been donated. The Schonerts also turned to Facebook friends to help gather books initially.

Pre-registration is not required to attend the program. For more information, call the Morton Public Library at (309) 263-2200.



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