Little libraries traveling to Africa

The tiny libraries perched in front of houses throughout the Twin Cities are taking a 6,000-mile journey to Africa this year.

The popular "Little Free Libraries,'' which look like oversized mailboxes, have paired up with the nonprofit Books for Africa. The colorful wooden libraries, shaped like schools or cottages, are expected to be open for business in Ghana in the months ahead.

"We've wanted to expand to Africa, and we saw Books for Africa as the perfect partner,'' said Todd Bol, co-founder of Little Free Libraries, launched in Hudson, Wis., in 2009.

Since then, the libraries have found homes in more than 5,000 locations across the United States, he said. Individuals have set them up in dozens of countries.

But this partnership would be the first orchestrated effort to bring a steady stream of books and libraries to African nations, Bol said.

Under the arrangement, Books for Africa will ship the little libraries in the containers of books that head to Africa several times a year, said Pat Plonski, executive director of Books for Africa, based in St. Paul.

The containers contain about 22,000 donated books.

Currently one little library is ready to go during the March shipment, Plonski said. The number of other libraries sent depends on fundraising efforts, he said.

Once in Africa, Little Free Libraries will work with Rotary Club representatives in Ghana to find suitable locations for the libraries, Bol said.

Because books are both valuable and scarce in Africa, they won't just be up for grabs in someone's front yard, as they are in the United States, Plonski said. They're likely to be set up in more secure public locations, such as a school courtyard, a medical clinic or even a store, he said.

Bol is optimistic they will be well received.

The goal is to bring hundreds of little libraries to Ghana and other nations in the next couple of years. They will arrive fully assembled and uniquely painted, Bol said.

Jean Hopfensperger • 612-673-4511

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