Little Free Library is OK’d for Bristol green

BRISTOL — Bristol will soon join Hanoi, Vietnam; Chandigarh, India; Auckland, New Zealand; and over 30,000 other spots around the globe in hosting a Little Free Library.
The Bristol Planning Commission on Oct. 20 unanimously approved the Lawrence Memorial Library/Addison County Readers proposal to place a Little Free Library at the playground on the town green.
The “library” will be an attractive box stocked with books that people will be free to take, read and return if they choose to. Its goal is to promote literacy and love of reading. This will be the first Little Free Library in Addison County.
The project, first approved by the Design Review Commission in July, had been tabled by the planning commission when it kicked off an intense debate about further development of the town green at the planners’ August meeting.
“I’m pleased that the Little Free Library was approved and look forward to seeing families using it,” said Bristol Planning Commission chair Sue Kavanagh. “We see it as an opportunity to increase literacy, especially among the youngest members of our community and their families.
“The Little Free Library permit application gave the planning commission the opportunity to share concerns about future development of the town green,” said Kavanagh, “and as the chair, I felt satisfied that we were heard and taken seriously by the selectboard.”
The Bristol Little Free Library will be attached under the “fairy house” structure and stocked with children’s books that park visitors can read together and take home to keep, if desired. The finished “library” will measure roughly 16 inches wide by 12 inches deep by 18 inches high and will be stained to match the playground structures.
Though small in size, this particular project has had a big impact on town planning.
The project had been carefully scrutinized by Design Review Committee members at their July 13 meeting at which the entire DRC had trooped over to the playground to carefully consider size and placement. The DRC approved the project, so long as it fit under the “fairy house” and didn’t change the “floor surface” of the playground overall. The project then went before the planning commission in August, where, in the normal run of things, a project with the DRC stamp of approval would have been an easy yes vote.
Instead, the Little Free Library proposal touched off an hour-long debate about open space on the green and how future development should be regulated. The planning commission’s concerns were that the green was getting overstuffed with projects — all worthy — that could, if new projects continued to be added, destroy the openness that is part of the green’s beauty.
The commission tabled the Little Free Library and asked the selectboard to place a moratorium on any further development on the green until a new ordinance set clear criteria and clear procedures for any future proposed development.
The selectboard heard the planning commission’s concerns and began deliberations over how to best regulate any further development of the town green. As a first step, it sent Town Administrator Therese Kirby to map the square footage of the green, along with the square footage of every permanent fixture, including the playground, fountain, war memorial, peace garden and bandstand.
Rather than create a new ordinance, the selectboard is opting to create a policy that restricts development to the current percentage of square footage used by permanent structures on the green, which Kirby’s measurements have shown to be around 14 percent. Kirby expects the selectboard to review the draft policy proposal at their upcoming meeting Nov. 2.
As Kirby relayed in an email to the planning commission, “Currently the Selectboard has control over the growth/changes on the park by whether or not they are willing to sign a zoning permit. After that, it is up to the planning commission or Zoning Board of Adjustment to apply the correct rules. At this time, none of the selectboard members see themselves approving any additions to the park, and this policy would stop any growth unless amended by a future Selectboard … The permanent structures and square footages would be on a map attached to the policy.”
Kirby also communicated to the planning commission the selectboard’s support for the proposed Little Free Library as part of the town’s support for literacy campaigns, and given that its proposed placement wouldn’t change the playground’s footprint on the green.
The Little Free Library movement started when a Wisconsin man built a miniature schoolhouse dubbed the “Esther Bol Memorial Library” in honor of his mom, a former schoolteacher, and filled it with free books. The “take a book, leave a book” Little Free Library movement estimates that Little Free Libraries now share 1 million books annually worldwide.
Vermont currently boasts 19 Little Free Libraries, according to the organization’s worldwide map, which shows dots flung across the state from West Halifax to St. Johnsbury and from Isle La Motte to Bennington. Bristol’s will be the first in Addison County.
The Bristol Little Free Library is a combined project of the Addison County Readers, a literacy group that distributes free picture books for preschoolers through Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, and Lawrence Memorial Library. Lawrence library staff will maintain the Little Free Library at the playground and keep it stocked with picture books, said children’s librarian Marita Bathe-Schine. Unlike many of the other Little Free Libraries worldwide, visitors won’t need to leave a book. They can simply sit and read and enjoy and even take a book home to keep if they like.
The whole purpose of having a Little Free Library at the park, Bathe-Schine explained, is to reach out to young families who’ve come to play. Though the park and the library are separated by just a few blocks, not everyone puts the library at the top of their to-do list. Being right at the park and easily accessible, books at the Little Free Library will help to encourage more young readers by making a quiet snuggle with a book part of the fun, rowdy time in the park.
“Our vision was that families would come and — especially families with younger children that this playground serves — would find some down time while they’re having a snack or just when the children needed to have a little bit of quiet time to have books accessible for them,” said Bathe-Schine. “Then when the child gets engaged with the book they can take it home and either bring it back or keep it.”
Bathe-Schine continued, “We want children to experience a quiet, enjoyable reading time even in the out of doors. We feel this would reach people who haven’t made it a habit yet to go to the library and just have it be more impromptu. It’s not another thing you have to plan. It’s just there for you when you feel like settling down.”
Community members wanting to help with the Bristol Little Free Library in any way can contact Marita Bathe-Schine at the Lawrence Memorial Library children’s desk at 453-2366 or [email protected].
Reporter Gaen Murphree is at [email protected].

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