- Associated Press - Monday, February 8, 2016

PEKIN, Ill. (AP) - Felicia Walsh has found a portal in her neighborhood that takes her to places she can only imagine.

Walsh, 10, of Pekin, visits the Little Free Library at the corner of South 13th Street and Oak Ridge Avenue. There are two treasure troves of knowledge there - one for adults and one for children. There, people can take a book, or they can sit on a bench and read.

“I like it because people come and they can get a bundle of joy from their books,” said Walsh. “People like to donate books here, so that makes me kind of happy. (The owners) don’t get money for it. If they were to get money, I know they would give it to charities. Some of the books can take children to a land they’ve probably never been to before. I think these books take people where they want to go. The books can, like, make them believe in what they want to believe in.”

The librarian is Nancy Atkinson - a woman who loves to read. That’s a gift she wants to pass on to others.

Atkinson has made the corner cozy for her library patrons. It sits under a shade tree with a white bench for patrons to sit and read.

“We’re not from Pekin, so I thought it would be maybe a nice way to meet some of the people in the neighborhood,” said Atkinson. “When we first put it in I passed out notices for several blocks around telling about it. And we have a lot of conversations around Marigold Festival time because people park down here. We have a lot of good conversations as people are walking by. We have ladies who say they are grandparents and read to their grandchildren every night. They come and get books. It has been fun. It has been a nice thing. I’m happy that we did it.”

Atkinson was online one day researching something at the Pekin Public Library when she found a website about the Little Free Library. People purchase or build enclosures to hold books for people to borrow or keep. People can leave books there for others. The idea of having her own little library in her yard and the benefits it would have for her neighborhood appealed to Atkinson. So she contacted a dear Amish friend, Elmer Miller, of Iowa, and asked him if he would construct a box for her.

She got the first one three years ago and the second one a year later.

“I found it was hard to keep a good selection in one,” said Atkinson.

The adult library, she said, is for the most part “self-sustaining.” People leave books there when they take a book. She buys children’s books there to put in the library at $2 per bag on bag day. She said it is a “win, win” because the Hope Chest is a charitable agency. Atkinson said she wipes down all of the secondhand books she purchases with disinfectant wipes so they are clean for the patrons.

There has only been one instance of vandalism. Two boys took out a book and started ripping the pages out of it and throwing it in the plants.

“My husband (Dale) went outside and hollered at them and said, ‘Pick those pages up and bring that back,’” said Atkinson. “And they did. My husband asked, ‘Why would you do that?’ I started talking to them and asked if they like to read. One said, ‘I do.’ He said he was looking for a particular book. I told him I had it and I got it for him. It was nice and it turned the whole situation around.”

There are more than 36,000 Little Free Library locations across the world that share 9.3 million books annually. The concept of the free libraries came in 2009 from Todd Bol of Hudson, Wis. as a project as a tribute to his mother, a former school teacher. It was a model of a one-room schoolhouse.

Atkinson has a constant reminder of the good that comes from her Little Free Library. Walsh brought a heart shaped pillow, a lunch box and a thank you note to Atkinson’s house to show her appreciation for the library. She uses the lunch box for a sewing box. The note reads:

“Dear Mr., Mrs. Thank you so much for thinking about little people who enjoy lovely books. Again, thank you so much.” Beneath her “thank you” Walsh drew a picture of a girl, a plus sign, a book, an equals sign and a heart.

Beneath the pictures she spelled out the meaning, “People plus books equal love.”

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Source: Pekin Daily Times, https://bit.ly/1P20zCz

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Information from: Pekin Daily Times, https://www.pekintimes.com

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