Like many older adults, Mike Hill knew what he didn't want for his birthday this year: More stuff.
Hill, 70, has a comfortable life and home at 418 S. Sixth St. in St. Charles. He instead wanted help pursuing his passion of encouraging people to read.
He asked his son, Brian, to build him a Little Free Library.
And now passers-by can participate in the worldwide movement to make books easily accessible to people, simply by taking or leaving reading material on its shelves.
Couldn't be easier
The concept really is that simple: Take a book if you want, leave a book if you want. No need for a library card. No overdue fines.
Thursday, there were about 20 books in the wooden cabinet, which has been up several weeks.
"At first people would not take anything," Hill said. He said people walking past usually do a double take and turn around, wondering what the cabinet is. They have rung his doorbell to ask about the Little Free Library.
Hill stocks it with a mix of books. He and his wife get many of them at used book and garage sales. Thursday, there were two unused waterproof bath-time books in there, in their original packaging, that he had intended to give to his grandsons. There were works of fiction and there was a booklet on making lasagna.
The cabinet is tricked out with solar-powered LED rope lights on the inside, so that passers-by in the evening can see what's available. The paint and the roof shingles match Hill's house, and the cabinet has a glass window so Hill can look out from his house or porch to see the status of the shelves.
"He just did a really nice job on it," Hill said of his son's handiwork.
His is the first official one in St. Charles proper, according to the Little Free Library website. There is also one at Congregational Church of St. Charles on Fox Mill Boulevard in Campton Hills. There are two in Elgin, three in Glen Ellyn, and five in Wheaton.
Official stewards of Little Free Libraries pay a $35 registration fee, which gets them a plaque for the cabinet, a page of bookplates, a bumper sticker, a listing on the map, and templates for bookmarks, bookplates and fliers. They also get free books, for the cost of shipping and handling. Publishers donate books to the organization; an official steward can receive $100 worth of books for $14.95. The organization also sells kits for housing the books, in case you aren't handy at designing your own. Organizers note, however, that Little Free Libraries have been set up creatively in old microwave ovens, breadboxes, toolboxes and old kitchen cabinets. The organization also gives cabinets to nonprofit organizations; the cabinets are made by a woodworking class at a Wisconsin prison. Some are made out of old barn wood, or recycled wood and plastic.
The organization's purpose fits the Hills' lifelong passion for reading. Hill, who is retired, was the librarian at St. Charles High School. Wife Nancy taught nursery school for many years at the Merry-Go-Round school and then at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in St. Charles.
Hill had read about the movement, and then was reminded about it when he saw one on a trip to Wisconsin to attend a Bob Dylan concert near Madison.
He's not far from Davis and Richmond elementary schools, and noted that people park near his house to attend downtown festivals, so there is good foot traffic.
"It will be interesting," he said, to see what shows up.