Curbside Literacy, Scout Style

The new Little Free Library is stocked with books for adults, teens and children. The library operates under the maxim “Take one, return one”

Spencer Phillips kicked around a handful of ideas for a project that would earn him the rank of Eagle Scout.

“I wanted to do something different,” said the Grandville High senior. “I wanted to do something to benefit not only one school or one church, but a community, and both older people and younger people.”

What Spencer decided on was a Little Free Library, a free-standing, independently designed, built and operated book exchange that encourages users to take one (or a few) and leave one (or a few).

Spencer Phillips designed, built and installed a Little Free Library outside West Elementary School, near the ball fields. A second one he built will be installed near the middle school

The wooden structure with cedar shake roof was installed last week on the grounds of West Elementary School, 3777 Aaron St. SW, near the ball fields. Spencer said the plan is to paint it the district’s burgundy and white.

Little Free Library is an international effort that has 40,000 exchanges around the world, according to the organization. Initially, Spencer said, the library will be stocked by donations to the Scouts and by the Grandville Branch of Kent District Library, which will serve as the tiny book nook’s steward.

The West Elementary little free library is one of two Spencer built. The second one is planned to be installed near the middle school once construction on the building is completed in the fall.

Grandville Branch Manager Joshua Bernstein said the library already is steward to two other little free libraries, and that they were happy to add two more. “The other two we maintain have been popular,” he said, “so to get two more in the community is exciting.”

On a recent afternoon, Spencer’s West El little free library was stocked with books for all ages, and included both classics and best-sellers. There was Tom Clancy and Sue Grafton, John Steinbeck’s “The Pearl,” Piper Kerman’s “Orange is the New Black” and even Dr. Seuss’ “The Cat in the Hat.”

The project, which spanned four months from design to installation, had help from other Scouts in Troop No. 292, as well as Spencer’s dad, Gary, whose basement workshop was where the concept took shape.

The most challenging part of the process wasn’t drawing the plans, or construction, or the extensive documentation required to satisfy Eagle rank requirements. It wasn’t even sinking the wooden post 36 inches into the ground and surrounding it with cement during the hottest days of the summer, Spencer said.

“It was the leadership part. This was the first time I’d been told ‘You have to do this. You have to do everything.’

“The phrase ‘I have to take this call’ has now come up inmy life,” he added. “Now I know what it’s like to have to figure something out and get it done.”

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Little Free Library

Kent District Library Grandville Branch

Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio

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