Members of the Isom community gathered recently for the unveiling of the first Little Free Library in Letcher County, which is in the Isom Park. Gwen Rollins, owner of Gwen’s Country Attic, and Jim Croucher, owner of Croucher Service Center, an auto service and repair business, built the Little Free Library and filled it with books for children and adults to enjoy.
A Little Free Library is a structure filled with books and located in a place where people are likely to pass by such as a park, in a neighborhood, a school or business. The idea is for children and adults to take a book to read or leave a book for others to enjoy. The libraries come in all kinds of interesting shapes and sizes such as dollhouses, gingerbread houses and replicas of local iconic local buildings such as schools and businesses.
In southeastern Kentucky, the idea of Little Free Libraries recently caught on as a result of Save the Children’s Innovative Approaches to Literacy grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The Perry County Literacy Council was established as a requirement of the grant to inspire local involvement and sustainability of literacy efforts. Council members first discussed the idea of Little Free Libraries at a meeting last fall.
Diana Patula, owner of McDonald’s in both Perry and Letcher counties and a member of the council, opened the first Little Free Library (LFL) in southeastern Kentucky at one of the Perry County McDonald’s locations. As a nod to Hazard’s past, it was built in the shape of the former twostory McDonald’s in Hazard.
Rollins first heard about the Little Free Library concept from Sherry Spradlin, marketing director for the Perry County Fiscal Court and owner of Harmony House Bed and Breakfast in Hazard. Spradlin also serves on the Perry County Literacy Council and recently held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the opening of her LFL. The structure, placed on the white picket fence on Broadway in front of Harmony House Bed and Breakfast, is in the shape of a piano in recognition of the musical history of Harmony House, which started as St. Cecilia’s School of Music in 1937. Patula is busy working on a Little Free Library for the McDonald’s in Letcher County.
The Isom Park Little Free Library was made out of a large antique box by Rollins and Croucher. It has a sturdy roof with hand-painted ivy on the side, along with book titles and authors such as “Three Little Pigs” and Dr. Seuss. The Little Free Library has a door with a window and the door swings open to reveal a collection of books for children.
Spradlin explained to the group that the location of a Little Free Library can be entered in the online map so that anyone can use a GPS to locate them. The goal is to eventually have several up and down Route 7, or “Antique Alley” as it’s known locally, to help provide books to children throughout the community and to also help encourage tourism to the area. Letcher County Magistrates Terry Adams and Keith Adams thanked Rollins and Croucher for their support of literacy in the community. When asked why it’s important to support this literacy project, Rollins responded, “I really don’t think kids get exposed as much as they need to, to the library and books. If you can’t read, you can’t get anywhere. We wanted to give back to the community that has been so good to us.” Croucher has been in business there for 35 years and Rollins for eight. “We love our little town and kids are our future, “ they said.
Isom Park, at 154 Red Bud Lane in Isom, offers a baseball field, shelter, walking track, and play structure. Rollins and Croucher hope that the Little Free Library will help to make the park more family friendly and will encourage the community to ”take back the park” and use it as a community asset.
They are currently exploring the idea of adding a StoryWalk around the walking trail at the park, which encourages literacy and physical activity for children and families. A StoryWalk places pages from a children’s storybook in displays along a path where children and families can read out loud as they walk along a trail.
To donate books or receive information on the Little Free Library or future StoryWalk, contact Gwen Rollins at (606) 233-1361.