LAKEWOOD RANCH — In an increasingly digital world, a group of middle school students is reviving a fading community pillar from a more traditional time.
“Libraries are constantly decreasing in America, and it made us sad,” said Grant Trautweiler, a sixth-grader at Nolan Middle School. “We learned only 21% of people have a library nearby. Libraries are going away with the rise of the Internet. We wanted to solve the problem.”
Over Christmas break, an assembly line of Nolan Middle School Technology Student Association students shuffled between a garage and a technology lab to finish building two miniature libraries to be installed at two county parks.
Backed by support from Manatee County, which has been seeking to fill the need for a library in East County, and a Wisconsin-based nonprofit, Little Free Library, that encourages such projects, the students installed the first library Jan. 24 at Greenbrook Park, located next to McNeal Elementary and Nolan Middle schools.
They will install a second library at Tom Bennett Park this week.
The Greenbrook library looks like a hip bird feeder.
It’s a wooden box, 35-by-24 inches, with a tin roof (that shields the weather) attached to a pole.
It’s sky blue and light green — bright and tropical — with miniature surfboards and swaying palm trees painted on the wood.
The box, which opens by a swinging, see-through door, contains about 20 to 30 books for all ages, children’s on the bottom row, adult novels and self-help books on the top.
The students conducted a book drive at school, collecting more than 100 books to fill the little library.
Six Nolan TSA students — spanning sixth through eighth grades — became inspired to build libraries while researching a project to fulfill the TSA’s annual Construction Challenge, for which Nolan has won state and national awards in the past, including third and fourth place, respectively, for a bench it built at a Panther Ridge Preserve bus stop last year.
The construction process, which began in August, combined complicated logistics overseen by adults — TSA adviser Maureen Hudson exchanged emails about permitting and zoning rules with Melissa Nell from Manatee County Natural Resources — and refreshing ingenuity from a group of students.
They worked quickly during after-school hours, weekends and through holidays, designating specific roles that matched the workers’ talents. For example, sixth-grader Beau Cunningham, known for his art skills, designed the Greenbrook library.
He used a computer program, Corel Draw, to design the art elements, such as small red swirls, on the library.
“Florida is known for beaches and the design looks beachy,” Cunningham said. “This neighborhood is also very colorful with colorful houses, so its library should be colorful, too.”
Other students cut the wood and engraved words onto the library, such as, “Take a book. Return a book,” using an Epilog Laser, a laser engraving system.
To install the library, the students dug a hole in the dirt and filled it with concrete.
They modeled the libraries after the nearly 400 Little Free Libraries built across the country, but they designed them to coincide with the aesthetics and character of the community.
The library operates on an honor system. If someone borrows a book, he should either return it when he is done reading it or put another book in its place.
“We trust the community,” said Kaitlin Bohan, an eighth-grader. “If books are not returned, we have extras from the book drive. Even if they are exchanged we will constantly change the available books so people don’t get bored.”
Although similar to the Greenbrook library, the Tom Bennett Park library looks more like a fishing cabin than a bird feeder. It is colored brown with a rustic design and the words “Get hooked on a book” engraved in the wood — a good fit for a park with a fishing pier.
Back at Greenbrook, the students picture a system in which active Lakewood Ranch residents bike to the library and read books at the park’s picnic tables.
“It’s a chance for the students and the community to build on their education and really enjoy something — the breeze and the books — and to expand their vocabulary,” said Naomi Burg, a seventh-grader.
Bohan hopes the project inspires interest in libraries, which she hopes never die.
“Go to freelittlelibraries.org, get a charter number and build your own,” Bohan said.
Contact Josh Siegel at [email protected]