Award-winning filmmaker Ron Kanter set up a Little Free Library in front of his East Falls home in April to serve his community on the honor system of “take a book, leave a book.”
The library is a small cabinet built from various pieces of wood — like the backboard of a bed — with the intent of providing kids an opportunity to explore the box and, hopefully, pick up some new stories and literature.
“I think it’s really important for children because if they establish a habit of reading, it’s a lifelong habit,” Kanter said. “There’s lots of research of how important books are to academic development.”
His inspiration for the library came to him when he heard budget cuts to Philadelphia School District public schools.
Even by the third grade, reading levels can predict a child’s future. Shrinking access to books and extracurricular activities in Philadelphia, accompanied by research across the country that analyzes development through reading, inspired Kanter to try something different, even on a small scale.
“It’s hard to know what to do with something as profound as a dysfunctional public school system, but you need to do something,” Kanter said. “The little free library was a tangible idea to support whatever people can do.”
Stephanie Heck, a mother of two who lives nearby, is thrilled by the idea. Her children have been rummaging through the little library to find exciting new books for themselves — and have been replacing them with books of their own to honor the system.
“They just find it exciting,” Heck said, adding that her children think it’s “cool.”
It’s become a routine for her children, Charlie and Louis, to head to the Little Library and pick up something new to read, and she’s noticed they aren’t the only ones benefiting.
“Even when I stop my car I see people looking in there,” she said. “It’s clever. People always have books they want to get rid of and never know what to do with them, so it’s interesting.”
Kanter has a living room filled with books to continue stocking the library in case book supplies dwindle which, he said, isn’t a bad thing. It’s about making sure there are always more books to pick up.
“Kids are curious and reading is part of satisfying that curiosity,” Kanter said.
He said to him, the most important part of his mission is to make the community aware that the book share is there and it’s free.
“I think once they understand that the books are there for them to take… that they aren’t stealing them [and] that they’re there because we want them to have a book and they start sharing books or bringing books back… I think it could work anywhere.”
The Little Free Library is an international organization that allows people to build these small book shares anywhere. For those with questions about how to get started, the site is a resource, but so is Ron Kanter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for those with interest in starting their own little library.