Thanks to Brian Howarth, users of the Polly Ann Trail will soon be able to take a break from their hiking, biking and horseback riding to enjoy a good read.
Howarth, who’s lived in Addison Township since 1995, built a Little Free Library (LFL) that will be placed along the trail, near the old mill/grain elevator on the south side of E. Elmwood St. in Leonard.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony for it will be held during the 66th Annual Strawberry Festival on Saturday, July 21. It will immediately follow the parade, which starts at noon.
“You see (LFLs) all over the place,” Howarth said. “They’re quite popular.”
Founded in Madison, Wisconsin in 2010, the LFL program is an international free book exchange movement. It’s mission is “to promote literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide.”
LFL exchanges are small wooden structures that typically resemble houses, barns, schoolhouses, etc.
“It wasn’t anything to whip it up. It just took a couple hours to pop it together,” said Howarth, who makes cabinets as part of his profession.
Each LFL holds books and functions as a 24-7 library. Members of the public are invited take books, return books and share books with fellow users. It’s all done at folks’ leisure. There are no library cards, late fines or hours of operation to fret about.
There are more than 70,000 LFL book-sharing boxes spread across 85 countries, according to www.littlefreelibrary.org.
Howarth built this LFL for the Addison Township Public Library to manage as a form of community outreach.
“We intend to stock it with popular reading material for adults, teens and kids. So, there will be a variety,” said Library Director Jaema Berman. “We invite the public to take a book and leave book.”
Berman is quite excited about the whole thing.
“I think it’s such a great opportunity for people on the trail to do some recreational reading while they’re outside,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to extend the library into a place that you wouldn’t expect it – a beautiful, natural environment where people can listen to the birds, watch wildlife, smell the grass and flowers, and enjoy some quiet time on the trail.”
Berman simply mentioned the LFL program to Howarth, who was elected to Addison’s library board of trustees in November 2016 and currently serves as treasurer, and he immediately volunteered to build a book exchange.
“It was such a gift,” she said. “One person’s small action, or big action in this case, can have such a great effect on the entire community.”
Howarth’s gesture didn’t surprise Berman in the least because she’s always known him to be quite dedicated to the library ever since she took over as director in 2011.
“He was one of the first people I met,” she said. “He offered his services to us to do all kinds of odd jobs that we just didn’t have the ability to do at the time. He fixed our old book return box several times.”
Berman recalled how Howarth always brought his two sons, Aaron and Evan, with him to show them how he fixed stuff and teach them about “the spirit of giving.”
In addition to serving on the library board, Howarth is also a paid-on-call firefighter/Emergency Medical Technician for the Addison Township Fire Department. He’s been with the agency for four years.
For years, Howarth was never terribly involved in the community because he was busy home-schooling his sons. But once they grew older, he decided to lend his time and talents to Addison.
“I just felt like it was time for that,” he said. “I guess I just jumped right in.”
Howarth and his wife, Carolyn, will be honored as Special People at this year’s Strawberry Festival in Leonard. They will ride in the parade. “I was actually quite surprised,” he said. “It’s an honor.”
Berman believes he deserves it.
“I feel so inspired by him and his family,” she said. “Brian and his family are just so community-minded, such givers. He’s a very modest person. He doesn’t ever brag about himself. He’s just an extraordinarily caring person. His actions speak loudly in this community even though he doesn’t really ever talk about them.”