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Family creates ‘little library’ for neighbors

Date: 4/10/2015

HOLYOKE – The Burnses are a “family of readers” so a Little Free Library on their lawn at 226 Rock Valley Road was a natural extension of their love for books.

“We love having a library,” said Christine Burns during a recent interview with Reminder Publications in her cozy living room, as her daughter Pearl snuggled with the family’s pet ferret on the couch.

Burns noted that after she read an article last spring about the Little Free Library movement in The Rotarian, a publication of Rotary International, she was hooked.

“It was so cool we had to do it,” she said, adding she enlisted Pearl’s help to steward the library project.

The Little Free Library concept has its roots in Hudson, WI, when a son built a model of a one-room schoolhouse as a tribute to his mother, a former schoolteacher who loved reading. He filled the schoolhouse with free books, and his neighbors and friends loved it. From that one act of love in 2009, little free libraries have sprung up across the globe, and a conservative estimate is that approximately 25,000 are registered with thousands more being built. The Burns little library has a charter number of 18,923.

The mom and daughter team went to work on their library last summer and talked to a family friend, Cano Valentin of Holyoke, about the cost of materials and labor.

“Within a few days he built it,”  Burns said.

Burns initially went to used bookstores and purchased a cross section of books for children and adults and soon neighbors and passers-by were stopping and checking out the selections – and making donations too.

“Our neighbors have spread the word too,” Burns said, adding that the selections are varied from the latest magazines including Time, Sports Illustrated, Money and Urban Farm to Food & Wine and Better Homes and Gardens. Book series currently available include Harry Potter, Dr. Seuss and Nancy Drew. For adult readers, books by John Grisham, Mary Higgins Clark and James Patterson are also available.

Burns noted that the family’s love of reading started even before Pearl was born.

“My husband Patrick read to Pearl when I was pregnant,” she said, adding she has been reading to Pearl too since she was a baby.

“I still read to her every night before bed,” Burns said. “If she has a friend sleep over, they read before lights out. Even with her friends it has become the culture of our home, and they bring a book to read before bed when they’re coming over. If they forget we have plenty.”

Burns noted that by establishing “a culture of reading” at home it becomes second nature to a child.
    “It’s not that we’re telling her to read but that she sees us enjoying reading too,” she said. “Children can follow good habits of their parents as easily as they can pick up the bad ones.”

Pearl, a fifth grader who attends school in Holyoke, echoed those sentiments.

“I’ve always loved to read and don’t go anywhere without a book,” she said, adding her favorite book is Percy Jackson’s “Greek Gods.”

Both mother and daughter encourage area residents or local groups to consider a similar project for their neighborhoods.

“It is important to switch out the collection as often as possible so that those who stop by will see what’s new,” Burns said.

Their motto is “Borrow a book, swap a book or take a book.”

“Starting a little library is a great way to get to know your neighbors,” said Burns, adding, “it is also a great community activity.”

Their little library had been closed during the winter but now the snow has disappeared from their front lawn so they are “thrilled” to be open again.

“We get a lot of traffic from people walking their dogs, running, or just stopping to check,” Burns said.

Pearl also noted how generous people are with their donations.

“It’s fun to know that someone will get enjoyment from another’s donation,” she said.

As a member of Girl Scout Troop 11354 in town, Pearl is always thinking of ways that fellow scouts can give back to the community. During a fall Girl Scout retreat at Camp Louis Perkins in South Hadley, Pearl and her fellow scouts created a bookshelf specifically for donated books in the mess hall.

“We also created journals for girls to write in,” she said.

Burns stressed that creating a little library is “very easy,” whether someone build’s one or purchases one from the Little Free Library website.

If you love reading and want to share that enthusiasm with others, the Burns note adding a little library can be contagious.

“This spring I plan to also have a guest book so patrons can make requests,” she said.

For more information on the Little Free Library movement, visit