By Anna Lothson
The newest library in Oak Park has a few features you can't find anywhere else. There's no membership card, no return policy, and best of all: no late fees. Heck, you don't even have to bring the book back.
In fact, the books in this library can be borrowed, taken, or returned with a few additional reads to add to the collection. This concept is a phenomenon that's been popping up across the country, and last week it landed in the front yard of one Oak Park family.
After encountering a feature story online about a lending library, Max and Leslie Weiss decided to offer something at their Kenilworth Avenue home, just a block south of Horace Mann Elementary School, to be shared with the community. Their simple love for reading, learning and the community in which they work and live were enough to inspire the couple to install the weatherproof lending library in their front yard.
"We thought our [home] was the perfect location," Leslie said. And since it opened last week, the library has been a hit. "There is a constant flow of people."
Max, the rabbi at Oak Park Temple, and Leslie, a substitute teacher and an instructor at the temple, have enjoyed seeing the curious crowds slowly stop when they see the miniature wooden house structure filled with books. Before and after school are the busiest times when school-age children line up to pick up a new read.
The library may lack the full range of stories, variety of genres, and places to cozy up and read them that you would find in the Oak Park Public Library, but the roughly 28-inch long, foot-and-a-half-deep structure is weatherproof and stocked well enough to keep interested patrons coming back. The Weisses' only goal is to foster a sense of community and encourage people to share their love for literary works.
"We don't care if people return books," Leslie explained. "The concept is to take a book, bring a book. We hope that we will get books in."
The Weisses' new library has since been registered with Little Free Library, a Wisconsin-based nonprofit organization that started in 2009. What started as their own collection of books has now passed through many hands. Their hope is that others begin to share their own favorites to continue the spirit of embracing literacy and sparking community engagement.
The goal of this Oak Park family library is to carry on this group's mission: "To promote literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide, to build a sense of community as we share skills, creativity, and wisdom across generations, [and] to build more than 2,510 libraries around the world — more than Andrew Carnegie — and then more."
The reaction from neighbors and the community has only been positive, Leslie said, and people at their children's schools have thanked them as they drop their kids off.
"People still love books," Leslie said. "People think it's a great idea. It seems like such a great thing for community."
From the reactions on the children's faces when they reach in to discover a new find, the Weisses' extra effort has already achieved its goal.