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Written by John Morton   
Wednesday, 03 May 2017 19:53

 

A book-loving daughter and a quest for neighborhood bonding spur one big Little Free Library project Little Free Library in the Ziegler front yard

As a little one, Alyssa Sass read anything she could get her hands on. 

“Then, when she got older, she’d see a movie and go right out and get the book,” said Fredonia’s Jon Ziegler, Sass’s step-father.  “She couldn’t get enough.”

So, when Ziegler recently read an article about how fewer children were reading books, and those who did read were going in the direction of electronic tablets, he did a little research online. There he found a little nugget called the Little Free Library.

“Fredonia doesn’t have a library and I wanted to help make a difference in the community,” Ziegler said of his decision to start his own Little Free Library. “And I decided to dedicate it to Alyssa.”

The international website supporting the concept, based in Hudson, showed no registered Little Free Library sites in Fredonia. Same for Saukville, where Ziegler’s business sits.

So he bought starter kits including pre-cut materials through the website and began construction of two book-storage units — one outside his home on Emerald Hills Drive in Fredonia and one outside the family business, Sass Accounting, at 221 E. Green Bay Ave. in Saukville. 

The units are 17x21x18 inches in size and hold 20 to 30 books.

“Since they’re outside, I put about seven coats of primer and paint on both,” Ziegler said. “I’d say they’re weatherproofed.”

Meanwhile, the back panel of the box at the Fredonia house features a dedication to Alyssa. 

“That is really, really sweet,” said Sass, now 23 and working in Boston. “Reading is one of the first things we connected on and he had so many books. If I ran out, I’d borrow from him.”

Home a few weeks ago for a funeral, she got to see the finished creations up close.

“They’re really well done, and on the green one, which matches our house, he used yellow stenciling. That’s my favorite color,” Sass said. “The the other one, for Saukville, is blue and gray. That matches the company’s colors.”

The rules to the Little Free Library are simple: Take a book and replace it with another. In the early going, Ziegler said he is prepared to have to re-stock the units until the concept catches on.   He plans to evaluate the box’s needs every two weeks or so.

library“I purchased several books brand new and a bunch used from the Goodwills in West Bend and Grafton. Plus, I have several adult friends who are willing to clean out parts of their collections,” he said.

For now, about half his inventory is geared toward kids first grade through fifth.

“That’s the age of most of the kids in our neighborhood,” he said. “After that I have some books geared toward teenagers and just a couple of adult books, like Tom Clancy and Dean Koontz.

“Once I get a feel for what’s going out and coming in, I’ll be able to better gauge what I need. And it will have to evolve as the kids get older.

“In time, I hope it would be self-sustaining.”

Ziegler hopes the mini library will “help bond the community,” he said, and feels his proximity to the Northern Ozaukee schools complex will offer convenience.

“Once the word is out, they’ll have no trouble coming right on over,” Ziegler said. “I hope to see young kids stopping by and begging their parents for a trip to a real library. For the older ones, maybe they’ll get the feeling of, ‘Hey, this is our library.’”

Being neighborly indeed has noble intent, but what about privacy? People will literally be shuffling about his yard.

“Yeah, I’m pretty picky about my lawn so that will be a bit of an experiment,” Ziegler said. “But I have it just a few feet in from my mailbox, sitting on a pole, and among some mulch. So it shouldn’t be so bad.

“It’s far enough from the street that people should be safe enough, but it’s not right in front of my windows.”

Meanwhile, Ziegler said it will be fun to sit back and see the reaction from the comfort of his own home. Will people enjoy the old-school simplicity of a shared book system?

“Part of this is about nostalgia, so I hope so,” said Ziegler, who grew up reading anything action-packed — like mysteries, stories of courtrooms and cops and robbers, and plenty of sci-fi. “There’s something about the old books. Something tangible.”

Either way, he wants to see people get back to reading.

“I realize the libraries have to go with a more electronic format to draw kids in,” said Ziegler, “but there’s also a novelty to the Little Free Library idea. There’s room for both.”


Image information: 

READY FOR READERS are Laurie and Jon Ziegler as they posed alongside the Little Free Library that now sits in the front yard of their Fredonia home. The back of the container features a tribute to Alyssa Sass, who is Laurie’s daughter and Jon’s stepdaughter.

Photo by Sam Arendt

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