By Missy Wattenbarger
The trees on the property of Calvary Presbyterian Church of Big Lick have stood witness to several changes in the community throughout the years. The latest took place earlier this month in the form of two cabinets nestled under the trees' large branches. Although it's a small addition, it is part of a larger movement that is sweeping the world and carrying on a community tradition.
Called a Little Free Library, it is the first of its kind in Cumberland County. It's a "take a book, return a book" gathering place where neighbors share their favorite literature and stories. In its most basic form, it is a box full of books where anyone may stop by and pick up a book and bring back another to share.
"This is a community – not a church – library..." said Big Lick resident Judy Venable. "It is open to anyone and everyone. Once we send notice of our opening, we will be on the website (www.littlefreelibrary.org) and then others from near and far will be able to easily find it."
The Little Free Library movement began in 2009 when Todd Bol of Hudson, WI, built a model of a one-room schoolhouse as a tribute to his mother, a former school teacher who loved reading. He filled it with books and put it on a post in his front yard. His neighbors and friends loved it, and soon Bol started building several more and giving them away.
Rick Brooks of Madison, WI, whom Bol met at a seminar on promoting green practices and a vibrant local economy for Hudson, entered the picture as a colleague exploring potential social enterprises. The two saw opportunities to achieve a wide variety of goals for the common good.
With a mission that includes promoting literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide, the two men set a goal of building 2,510 Little Free Libraries (as many as Andrew Carnegie had funded around the turn of the 20th century) and to keep going, promoting reading for children, literacy for adults and libraries around the world. With no startup or operating capital, no office or paid staff, the concept evolved into an enterprise reaching communities far beyond Bol's front yard next to the St. Croix River in Hudson. It is conservatively estimated that by January, the total number of registered Little Free Libraries will be between 10,000 and 12,000, with thousands more being built.
"We are No. 7,597!" stated Venable.
Venable, who has lived in Big Lick for a little more than a year, helped to bring the movement to Cumberland County. After reading an "American Profile" article about the libraries in March, she brought the idea to the ruling body of Calvary Presbyterian Church of Big Lick at the corner of Vandever and Dunbar Roads.
"The church is really the center of the community," said Venable, adding that it is one of the few significant structures from the community's heyday. "I didn't know any of the history of the book mobile at that point."
This particular Little Free Library pays tribute to Albert and Verdie Hall, who were members of the church.
"Mr. Hall was the postmaster for Big Lick until 1955 when he retired..." said Venable. "The post office was in his store, which serviced the community with staples and often ran the barter system. For a time they had the only telephone in the area, and their home was the 'test' house for electricity in the area."
In addition, the family was in charge of a local book mobile during the '50s and '60s in their home at the corner of Vandever Rd. and Hwy. 127. Book mobiles were a big deal back then, Venable noted, as they gave everyone access to books when the main libraries were too far away.
"The regional library at the time was the Tennessee Polytechnic Institute Regional Library. In the '50s and '60s, they would bring books to the house and would take back the books that they delivered previously. No one could tell me how often they came... to swap out the books...," Venable explained.
Ella Hall Wilson, the youngest of the Halls' seven children, also couldn't remember when the Big Lick book mobile started because her family always had books in their house. However, she thought her parents would be pleased with the little library that sits a mile from where the book mobile was once housed.
A special dedication ceremony for the Little Free Library was held Sunday, Nov. 3, after the morning service. After a brief history of Big Lick and a blessing, Venable called on Betty Beattie and Loreda Davis to unwrap the adult portion of the library. As avid readers who already exchange stacks of books with each other, they happily obliged. Landen and Parker Wilson, the Halls' great-great-grandchildren and budding booklovers, were called on to open the children’s box.
"Let the reading begin," Venable said.