Dowagiac Little Free Libraries receive grant

Published 10:12 am Thursday, March 14, 2019

DOWAGIAC — As one walks or drives through Dowagiac, he or she might encounter small, freestanding houses with transparent doors that look like a dollhouse or large birdhouse. These structures are not for dolls or birds, however, but for books, and free books at that. The Little Free Libraries of Dowagiac are community drop boxes of literature that run on the honor system of “take a book, leave a book.” Soon, the LFL system of Dowagiac will have 12 additional locations.

In late February, The Pokagon Fund announced $69,000 in quarterly grants, the money from which was dispersed to eight different community nonprofits. The Pokagon Fund awarded a $10,000 grant to the Dowagiac Little Free Libraries, which is operated through the Dowagiac District Library. To date, Dowagiac is already home to eight LFL’s, and the additional 12 to be installed with the grant funds from TPF will mean Dowagiac has 20 LFLs throughout the city.

“That might be a pretty darn good ratio [of a community of Dowagiac’s population having so many LFL’s],” said Bobbie Jo Hartline, secretary to the city manager.

Hartline’s involvement with Dowagiac’s LFLs began when Heather Nash, the former principal of Patrick Hamilton Elementary School, first had the idea.

“It was (Nash’s) idea to bring a Little Free Library to town,” Hartline said. “Her handprints are all over this program.”

Dowagiac’s first LFL was also installed with the aid of grant funding, and since the system of LFL’s in Dowagiac has grown exponentially. There are LFL’s at Russom Park, Front Street Crossing, the police station, at Patrick Hamilton Elementary, Walter Ward Park, First United Methodist Church and Justus Gage Elementary. Michael Symmonds designed, built, stocked and installed three of the LFL’s for his Eagle Scout project.

“The excitement caught across the city,” Hartline said. “We were proud of that.”

Even with the dramatic increase in the LFL’s, the city is divided into three wards, and those involved with the LFL’s wanted to ensure the city was covered. The DDL applied for the TPF grant noting the intent to introduce 12 more LFLs.

Since receiving the grants, the DDL has ordered 12 matching LFL structures from a catalog, which will be installed in April and adopted in May by the members of the community.

“We want neighborhoods to claim them as their own. They will also get to decorate them,” Hartline said.

For DDL director Matt Weston, the LFL’s represent an outreach of the larger library system. Although he still encourages locals to visit and rely on their library, the goal of any library is to promote reading and information sharing. Some people may not be able to get to a library, so having a neighborhood LFL is a way to provide another service for the community.

“It’s a great way to reach out and provide to the community. It can be more convenient to pick up a book where you’re at,” Weston said. “The library does not feel it’s a competition.”

Although the neighborhoods will steward the LFLs, the DDL does keep track of them and keep them well stocked with new material, according to Weston.

Dowagiac’s Little Free Library system is part of the worldwide Free Little Library organization. When the new libraries are installed, interested locals and visitors will be able to find them on the Little Free Library world map, which can be found on