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  • Writer's pictureJoe Capozzi

Love-for-Lit Story: How political challenges to books gave a big boost to LWB Little Free Libraries

Updated: Mar 13, 2023

THE BOOKS ARRIVE daily, dropped off in boxes at Mary Lindsey’s front door by an Amazon, UPS or U.S. Postal Service truck.

‘‘Every day, I come home and there are eight or nine packages of books,’’ the Lake Worth Beach woman said. “They just keep coming.’’

They’ve been coming since Feb. 14, a few days after Lindsey, the head librarian of Lake Worth Beach’s popular Little Free Libraries branch, received an email from a stranger — a third-grade teacher in Massachusetts.

The teacher explained how a few of her precocious students, during a classroom discussion, broached a political topic that has made national news — the movement in Florida to ban and restrict certain books from schools.

“It’s been so upsetting to my students that kids down there (in Lake Worth Beach) couldn't read a variety of amazing books,” the teacher, who asked that her name and school not be identified for fear of retaliation by conservative groups and others advocating book bans, recalled in an interview.

“One child said, ‘Let's give them some of our books,’’’ she recalled.

But exactly where or to whom would they send the books? The students wanted to make sure they’ll get into the hands of Florida children who want to read them.

The Massachusetts kids quickly found a solution, one they were already familiar with — Little Free Libraries, a nonprofit started in 2009 in Wisconsin that promotes neighborhood book exchanges in the form of public bookcases.

Today there are more than 150,000 little libraries registered with the non-profit, most handmade boxes decorated with art and mounted atop posts outside homes, public areas and schools across the United States, including some in the teacher’s community not far from Boston.

Let’s just give some of our books to a Little Free Libraries program in Florida, the students said.

Through a Google search, the teacher found the Lake Worth Beach Little Free Libraries program, launched by Lindsey in 2015. Today, Lake Worth Beach has around 100 little libraries — the most “per capita than any community in the world,’’ according to the Florida Library Association, which in 2020 named Lindsey its “outstanding citizen” for her work.

Photo collage of some of Lake Worth Beach's Little Free Libraries (Facebook)

Within days of their email connection, the teacher was on the phone with Lindsey and learned more about the socio-economic challenges facing many Lake Worth Beach children.

“I found out the children in the community are really underserved and don't have access to good books in general,’’ the teacher said. “It became less about what kind of books and it became more about getting great high quality books to kids that need them.’’

With help from her students and their parents, the teacher curated a list of more than 250 titles, not just books being challenged but others that were their favorites.

An Amazon wish-list link was circulated among parents and friends in Massachusetts, and within days new books started arriving in Lake Worth Beach.

“My community is pretty privileged. We have a lot of access to books, being on the East Coast near a college area,’’ the teacher said. “It's making me happy to spread the books I love. And it’s making my students happy.’’

Some of the newly-arrived boxes of books in front of Mary Lindsey's home (Facebook)

To Lindsey, the story of the Massachusetts project became less about getting challenged books into the hands of Lake Worth Beach children and more about the generosity of strangers with a shared love for books.

“Truly, people are magnificent creatures capable of incredible (and mostly anonymous in this case) acts of hope and love,’’ Lindsey wrote on one of many social-media posts about the book project.

“That, as I see it, is what this effort represents. What actions the Governor or anyone else who wants to limit books, may or may not make is so irrelevant in the face of such charity. I'm hoping everyone will come to recognize that this is soo not not not about banned books.’’

But the Massachusetts teacher’s charity project was launched because of Gov. Ron DeSantis administration’s policies challenging and restricting what titles can be placed in classrooms across Florida.

And it’s happening at a time when school teachers in Palm Beach County are struggling to deal with those policies, which require teachers to screen the books based on a checklist that can induce subjective opinions.

Mary Lindsey at the Little Free Libraries tent at BiblioArte in downtown Lake Worth Beach March 11, 2023 (Joe Capozzi)

As a result, many teachers and media specialists are gun-shy about which books they bring into their classrooms. So while Florida might not have instituted a full book ban, the policies nonetheless have had a chilling effect.

“I was talking to some teachers recently and what bothers me is, it’s a fear tactic. Some of these teachers are self-censoring because they are afraid for their jobs. So they pull the books just to be safe,’’ said Cindy Ansell, children’s services librarian at the Lake Worth Beach Public Library.

Lake Worth Beach isn’t the only Little Free Libraries branch in the United States that has turned into a safe haven for challenged books. Similar efforts have been done in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Georgia.

The central Little Free Libraries nonprofit has been encouraging others to stock banned and challenged books in the little libraries. And at least one person created a Little Free Banned Book Library.

Lindsey, meanwhile, has been happily stocking Lake Worth Beach’s Little Free Libraries with fresh books that have been arriving every day while also giving them to needy children at events.

Bags of the new books were handed out at the recent Lake Worth Beach Street Painting Festival and this past weekend at BiblioArte 2023, where the featured illustrator was Rafael Lopez, whose book Drum Dream Girl is banned in some Florida school districts.

“It’s just a story about a girl who wants to be a drummer in Cuba but they wouldn't allow her to be a drummer in Cuba back in the 1930s. She eventually became a world-renowned percussionist. It's all about the power to do it and for some reason it’s banned. I have no idea why,’’ Lopez said.

Lindsey has used social media to shower praise on the Massachusetts teacher and her students. She has also inspired others in and around Lake Worth Beach to contribute books.

Cindy Ansell and Rafael Lopez greet visitors at BiblioArte in downtown Lake Worth Beach March 11, 2023 (Joe Capozzi)

“I was just blown away,’’ Tim Daughtry of Lake Clarke Shores said when he learned about Lindsey’s involvement in the Massachusetts project.

He was inspired to donate bags of his favorite books, including some that have been challenged.

“I love to read. I'm a book nerd. I have been exposed to a lot of books they are banning and they have shaped my life for the better,’’ Daughtry said.

“This book ban really upsets me,’’ he said. “Every tough topic has differences of opinion. If a book encourages conversation and sharing ideas, it’s achieving its goals no matter what side of the issue it falls on.’’

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About the author

Joe Capozzi is an award-winning reporter based in Lake Worth Beach. He spent more than 30 years writing for newspapers, mostly at The Palm Beach Post, where he wrote about the opioid scourge, invasive pythons, the birth of the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches and Palm Beach County government. For 15 years, he covered the Miami Marlins baseball team. Joe left The Post in December 2020. View all posts by Joe Capozzi.


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