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Sharing Stories

The Movement Is More Important
Than the Marketplace
by tony bol
Todd Bol (1956-2018) started the Little Free Library Movement in 2009. At that time he was unemployed and messing around with scrap lumber from an old garage door. His late mom – a retired school teacher – loved to read, and Todd was looking for a way to give her collection of books renewed value by sharing them with neighbors. He hammered together a book shelter fashioned after a red school house, about the size of an average air conditioner. During these early days of discovery for Todd and afterwards, Bol family members listened to him intently and helped him develop his ideas.

Todd next placed the book shelter on a pole in his front yard and watched as a fascinating culture emerged. The friendly and approachable red school house filled with books brought his neighbors together, and the sign he attached that said to help yourself to a book or two brought smiles to their faces. People did take books, but they also added their own books creating an eco-system of sharing. This reciprocity and goodwill got Todd thinking that his idea might work elsewhere, and quickly he became the Jonny Appleseed of the Little Free Libraries, taking his mission of easy access to books through little libraries across America. As the journey unfolded, Todd founded the Hudson-based nonprofit organization Little Free Library with a friend in 2012.

Fast forward to today when front yard sharing has taken on a life of its own. Many like-minded people have come together to support the little library movement in different ways, including neighborhood associations, community groups, churches, public libraries, families, and even art collectives. Todd’s sharing concept has expanded from supporting literacy through books to helping others by providing canned goods, personal care items or household necessities, and beyond. Todd’s original idea naturally morphed into different things – something Todd embraced – and it all began as an the easy-to-do concept for everyone.

The Bol Family is committed to Todd’s vision of keeping the grassroots ideals of the Little Free Library Movement alive. We believe, as Todd did, that making and using libraries should be organic and unencumbered. Our family asks LittleFreeLibrary.org to stop applying for trademarks that inhibit the natural growth of little libraries. In June, LittleFreeLibrary.org applied for trademark control of “wooden boxes with a storage area for books”. Additionally, LittleFreeLibrary.org stakes claim to word variations beyond their trademarked name “Little Free Library”, such as “little library” and “little libraries”. The Bol’s respect the trademark; however, both “little library” and “little libraries” are common sense, generic descriptions for front yard exchange boxes and should be used freely by everyone. Our family believes these phrases do not confuse people with the LittleFreeLibrary.org brand.

The Bol Family wants only to protect the Little Free Library Movement that Todd created and represent him as only a loving family can. New leadership at LittleFreeLibrary.org is experienced at marketplace advancement and trademark expansion. Its new executive director is a former CitiBank, Morgan Stanley and Deluxe Corp. executive reporting to a board chair who is a current Wells Fargo senior executive. Their combined skillsets and business philosophies are changing Todd Bol’s direction for the Little Free Library organization. Our family is saddened by specific changes that expand and overreach LittleFreeLibrary.org’s trademark controls.

We hope that the leadership at the Little Free Library will listen to the people that made it a movement. Join us in protecting it and ask LittleFreeLibrary.org to abandon its expanded trademark applications and overreach claims. These issues can be reversed with your help by reaching out and letting LittleFreeLibrary.org know you do not support the actions of their senior leaders. 

Our Bol Family does support the devoted team of good people at LittleFreeLibrary.org. and wish to be only sharing happy stories about all things little libraries soon. We too hope these details here correct the misleading information recently reported in the Nonprofit Quarterly.

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