Spreading the word one little library at a time

Addison residents Don and Jane Saxon are ready to plant their fourth Little Free Library book exchange on Pine Island, the largest island in Florida. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio.
Addison residents Don and Jane Saxon are ready to plant their fourth Little Free Library book exchange on Pine Island, the largest island in Florida. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio.

Don and Jane Saxon are busy spreading the power of the written word in little ways that are having a huge impact on folks, young and old.

The Addison Township couple is preparing to plant their fourth Little Free Library (LFL) book exchange and this time, it’s on Pine Island in Florida, west of Fort Myers.

“We really want to connect books with people,” said Jane, who spent about 24 of her 34-year career at Kingsbury Country Day School as a librarian. “I am such a firm believer in becoming a lifelong reader. There’s so much to learn from books.”

Don is busy putting the finishing touches on a book exchange that’s going to be placed in the Bocilla Island Club, a condo development.

The development is located in Bokeelia, an area that encompasses the northern part of Florida’s largest island. Many retirees and snowbirds reside there.

“It’s a place where people really love to read,” Jane said.

Founded in Madison, Wisconsin in 2010, the LFL program is an international free book exchange movement. According to the LFL website, (www.littlefreelibrary.org), the mission is “to promote literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide and to build a sense of community as we share skills, creativity and wisdom across generations.”

LFL exchanges are small wooden structures that typically resemble houses, barns, schoolhouses, etc. Each one holds books and functions as a 24-7 library.

Members of the public are free to take books for their own use and leave books for others to enjoy. Anyone can use it at their leisure. No library cards are required, no late fines are assessed.

“It’s a great cause,” Don said.

As of November, there are 50,000 LFL book exchanges around the world. They are located in all 50 states, plus more than 70 countries.

The Saxons became part of the LFL movement when, in May 2015, they planted a book exchange resembling an old schoolhouse at Kingsbury, near the intersection of Hosner and Oakwood roads in Addison.

But they didn’t stop there. They kept going and Don kept building them.

“I never charge anybody to build them,” he said. “I just do it because I think it’s a great project. It has a wonderful purpose.”

The Saxons planted a LFL book exchange in Lake Angelus, Michigan in July 2015 and another in Bokeelia, Florida in a manufactured home community known as The Palms.

There’s a high concentration of workers from Honduras and Guatemala living there along with about 100 children, they explained.

The Saxons wanted to help the kids by giving them free and easy access to books in both English and Spanish as a way to improve their language and reading skills.

“We realized there was a need for this,” Jane said. “We need to get books into kids’ hands to get those minds started learning about the world and life in general.”

“Kids are the same all over,” Don said. “Once they learn to read and once they get books in their hands, it opens up a new world for them.”

“They have been using it a lot,” Jane noted. “Every single week, I had to put more books in it.”

The LFL program has been the perfect joint hobby for the Saxons. It combines Jane’s boundless passion for reading and kids with Don’s talents as a builder.

Once a week, Jane ventures to Kingsbury to read stories to children.

“I’m still a volunteer there,” she said.

Although he worked for General Motors for 32 years, Don built houses, additions, decks and garages on the side.

“My grandfather was a builder, I’m a builder and my son’s a builder,” he said. “You can see the apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree. It’s in our blood.”

Don really enjoys building the LFL book exchanges because it gives him the opportunity to do what he loves while keeping his skills sharp and his mind active during his retirement.

“Time catches up with everybody,” noted Don, but that “doesn’t mean you have to give up things. It just means you have to miniaturize them.”


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