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Little Libraries rise from ashes

The first Little Free Libraries built from the ashes of arson were installed last week. Painted Spartan blue and white, they offer passersby a chance to take a book or share a book.

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Katie Schleife and her granddaughter, Vera Maki, 2, close the door of Schleife’s Little Free Library on Highgate Street in Superior on Friday, Sept. 28. It is one of 15 new libraries that will be planted in Superior thanks to a fundraising campaign prompted by an arson fire that destroyed one family’s library. Maria Lockwood/mlockwood@superiortelegram.com
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The first Little Free Libraries built from the ashes of arson were installed last week. Painted Spartan blue and white, they offer passersby a chance to take a book or share a book.

Katie Schleife couldn't wait until the support posts were taken off her library on Highgate Street in Superior's Billings Park neighborhood.

"I've been ready for months," she said, grinning.

With the help of her 2-year-old granddaughter, Vera, she loaded the wooden structure Friday, Sept. 28 with classics, family favorites and some seasonal reading.

"This is my daughter's; she's now 30. These were my son's, who's now 40," Schleife said. "This is a newer one that I just picked up somewhere. Here's one that I saved and I'm just never going to read. Perfect for Halloween: 'Goosebumps.' My husband's on fly tying ... Who doesn't have five copies of 'Goodnight Moon?'"

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Once the books were settled in, Schleife affixed an official Little Free Library sign to the front. She was tempted to pull up a chair and wait for the first person to borrow a book.

"I've just always been a Little Free Library fan," said Schleife, a retired school psychologist. "Whenever I see one, I stop. I don't always take a book, but I just stop and check them out because there's so many designs. They're so fun."

In all, 15 new Little Free Libraries in Spartan blue will crop up throughout Superior this year - a community response to arson.

Laura Selden's Little Free Library, a Mother's Day gift from her husband years before, went up in flames the morning of Jan. 14. No suspect was found.

Selden, who lives in downtown Superior, reached out on the "You know you're from Superior, WI when ..." Facebook page to express her frustration and raise awareness about the arson incident. She received so much positive feedback that she decided to turn the crime into community action.

A GoFundMe site was launched to raise money for new Little Free Libraries throughout the city. Students at Northern Lights Elementary School pitched in, collecting more than $260 during a "Hat Day" event. Irene Peterson donated a Campbell's Lumber certificate for materials. Neighbor Harry Kubarek volunteered to construct them.

A total of $2,350 was raised - enough to build, install and register 15 libraries. Now, they're popping up all over town.

Near the University of Wisconsin-Superior campus, it was the neighbors who couldn't wait for the Little Free Library to be finished. Denise Byberg placed the small lending library in front of her Lincoln Street home in memory of her mother, Bonnie Higgins.

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"My mom was a big advocate for reading books and giving kids books," Byberg said. "To her, books were everything. You could go anywhere with a book."

The Spartan blue and white structure Monday, Oct. 1, offered a selection of John Grisham and James Patterson thrillers, as well as Dr. Seuss' "Are You My Mother?" That surprised Byberg's husband, Loren, when he went to measure the wooden library.

"We haven't put anything in there because we were waiting until it was all steady, and we noticed there's books in there," Byberg said. "So we got books before we put books in there."

Why so supporters believe Little Free Libraries are so important?

"I just believe that we can share," Schleife said. "We have so many books - everybody does in their home. Let's share them. And I just think valuing books in some ways is even more important now because all the technology that's out there. Sit down and read a book. It's almost becoming a lost art."

She gave kudos to Laura and Brent Selden, who dug the post and set the library in concrete themselves.

Laura Selden said that there is no central drop-off site for books and magazines to fill the structures, but she encouraged everyone to share a book at the Little Free Libraries in their neighborhood. Volunteers are being sought to help install the rest of the libraries.

For more information or to volunteer, email lauralselden@gmail.com .

Related Topics: SUPERIOR
Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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