Little Free Libraries stay open for community

DOWAGIAC — With the “stay-at-home” executive order commencing this week, one local Little Free Library wants everyone to have access to books to read.

As libraries were mandated across the state to close due to COVID-19, readers may have another way to pick up some fresh content.

Across the city of Dowagiac, 19 Little Free Libraries stand, each with unique designs, colors and containing a variety of reading material.

The most recently installed Little Free Library stands outside of the Beckwith Theatre Company, decorated orange with Dr. Seuss’ “Green Eggs and Ham.”

The Beckwith Little Free Library was one of the final libraries installed with funds donated by the Pokagon Fund. The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians funds the Pokagon Fund. In February 2019, a $10,000 grant was awarded to install 12 libraries throughout the three wards of Dowagiac.

With the COVID-19 situation developing, Bobbie Jo Hartline, secretary to the city manager, sent out a message to Little Free Library families and stewards who maintain the libraries and monitor the number of books inside the libraries.

“The visitors to your Little Free Libraries are another extension of your family – and we know you want to take care of them,” Hartline said. “As a community, we will help each other through this, and being a part of the Little Free Library Family will be no different.”

Hartline said she offered ideas that stewards had been discussing, including adding hand sanitizer at the sites and possibly turning Little Free Libraries into Little Free Pantries by providing packaged food items in the libraries instead of books.

“If stewards felt their Little Free Libraries could exacerbate the issue, we thought it was best for their libraries to take a rest,” Hartline said.

Little Free Library’s umbrella organization also issued tips for people fostering and visiting the libraries that are scattered across the country:

• If a person is sick, do not share books in the library until they are symptom-free.

• If a friend is sick, they should not come to a library.

• People should use hand sanitizer every time they use a library.

• Do not gather with others at a little free library.

Tips were also offered on how to clean books properly, so they do not suffer damages. Microfiber cloths were recommended for cleaning paperback books or books with cloth covers. Plastic covered books can be cleaned with disinfectant wipes.

Already, Hartline said during the first week of school being out, several libraries’ book collections were wiped out.

“There were only a couple of books left at three locations,” she said. “We weren’t sure if it was someone being malicious or heavy use.”

Hartline provided her own tips.

“If you take a book, bring it back with a wet wipe,” she added. “Do not go to the libraries as a group.”

Hartline said if Little Free Libraries have a dry spell and need more reading material, stewards can reach out to her.

The Sister Lakes Little Free Library, located in front of Mitchell Lawn Care and Landscape, 67900 M-152, Dowagiac, declared it would stay open during the COVID-19 pandemic on Facebook.

“Since so many people will be home with time to spare, we want to make sure everyone has access to something to read, especially the kids,” the post said. “If there is a particular type of book you can’t find in our library, please let us know. We have young child, early readers, easy chapter, teen and adult books in stock.”

The library also recommended visitors follow guidelines and not visit libraries if they are sick and not to share books or puzzles in the library if family members are sick.