International Literacy Day was Tuesday, and marking the day of reading, employees from Lowe’s installed a book case shaped like a red school house at the Santa Rosa School Board building at 5086 Canal Street. Patti Petrie, literacy coordinator for Santa Rosa School District, was the driving force behind the Little Free Library installation, as they’re known, which allows members of the community to take books for free. Currently, there is only one in Santa Rosa County, located at the Tastee-Freez on Highway 90. During the SRC Board of County Commissioners committee meeting, Commissioner Jayer Williamson said he wants to see two more installed, at Benny Russell Park and Floridatown Park.
Petrie said she got the idea to add the book exchanges in Santa Rosa County from her regular walks with her grandson in her Pensacola neighborhood. “In East Hill, they built them to look like the homes they’re in front of. They are on every block there,” she said.
The concept comes from the Little Free Library nonprofit organization founded in 2009 by Todd Bol. According to the nonprofit’s website, Bol, the son of a former school teacher, built the first Little Free Library in Wisconsin, a model of a one-room red school house, to honor his mother and to promote literacy in his community. “His neighbors and friends loved it. He built several more and gave them away,” the site says. Six years past now, the organization has over 30,000 registered book exchanges in all 50 states and over 70 countries, according to the website.
During the BOCC meeting, Williamson said Petrie and “S.S. Dixon Intermediate Principal Linda Gooch, and a parent, Gina Jones, with the parent teacher student organization at S.S. Dixon, they approached me about the Little Free Libraries…Basically they want to use Benny Russell Park as one and S. S. Dixon Intermediate would like to stock that one, and then Pace High School would like to stock one at Floridatown Park… It just gets reading out of the boundaries of school and into our parks.”
Williamson also related his own early troubles with reading. “It’s dear to my heart, too, because I struggled as a child in first, second grade with reading and it made me really hate school and it made me fail in other subjects because my reading was bad. I did not like where it came to a part of the class where you had to read out loud. It was tough to grow up to not be able to read well. I went through a lot of tutoring and now I love to read…I look forward to coming to S.S. Dixon Intermediate and reading to the children there this month.”
Lowes constructed and erected the Little Free Library at the school board building. Mike Dwyer, with Lowes human resources, said the project came through the company’s Lowes Heroes Program, “an annual program Lowes runs where every store is allotted so much money to do a project in the community.” He said this year three were chosen in Santa Rosa County and the Little Free Library at the school board building was one of them. Dwyer said the Pace store’s manager, Chad Rakestraw signed off on the project, which was then designed, constructed, and painted by Terry Almond, Patrick Lessard, and Rebecca Kilpatrick. “We gave them the idea and let them run with it,” Dwyer said. The other two projects Lowes chose were shelves for a storage room at the Santa Rosa Kid’s House and the overhaul of a deck at the Pregnancy Resource Center according to Dwyer.
While Lowes took care of this initial book exchange, Williamson said Home Depot would be willing to provide the materials for the libraries at Benny Russell and Floridatown parks and possibly the labor.
In about three weeks time, the exchange at the school board building will be registered and added to the map available at littlefreelibrary.org, according to Petrie, when the plaque and sign arrive. She said the day this happens would be a more official unveiling. As more of the free book cabinets show up, she wants literature available for adults as well as children, and hopes to see businesses and other organizations erect them around Santa Rosa County. She said, “The point is it’s a community movement, not just the schools. Today was the start.”