In Memoriam 2018: Todd Bol

As another year closes, we acknowledge the passing of literary luminaries, including Cleveland, Ohio native Harlan Ellison, whose work was influential in speculative fiction; the prolific Harlan was also known for writing in bookstore windows. We also said goodbye to poet Donald Hall, who was U. S. Poet Laureate in 2006 and 2007; comic book writer Stan Lee, who was a creative leader in the industry; novelist Ursula K. Le Guin who, in 2016, The New York Times described as “America’s greatest living science fiction writer.” Sadly, there were many other notable literary deaths this year, including someone we’d like to pay tribute: literacy advocate Todd Bol.

In 2009, Bol built a two-feet high/two-feet wide replica of a schoolhouse, filled it with books and placed it in his front yard. His intent was to start a small book exchange for his neighbors. That small book exchange grew into what was called the tiny library movement with people replicating Bol’s method with tiny libraries of their own. Just one year later, he founded a nonprofit organization with objectives to inspire a love of reading, build community, and spark creativity by fostering neighborhood book exchanges around the world.  What began as a tribute to his beloved mother, who’d been a school teacher who loved books, became a grassroots initiative which has become a worldwide movement known as the Little Free Library.

Inspired by Andrew Carnegie, the industrialist/philanthropist who left a legacy of having provided funding for 2,509 libraries. Bol’s goal was to surpass that figure by building 2,510 little libraries; he hit that target in 2012. The success of the Little Free Library movement cannot be understated, with more than 75,000 little libraries in 88 countries around the world. There are more than 100 little libraries in Northeast Ohio, and growing.

What began as a “spiritual gesture,” has become an international phenomenon. In a 2013 Washington Post interview, Bol stated, “I put up my library and noticed my neighbors talking to it like it was a little puppy. And I realized there was some kind of magic about it.”

Todd Bol, who died on October 18 at the age of 62, helped to inspire a love of reading and created a special form of community engagement. It is a powerful testament to the difference one person, with one special gesture, can make.