PHILANTHROPY SPOTLIGHT: Port St. John Residents Rally to Support Anna Hackel’s ‘Little Free Library’
By Maria Sonnenberg // October 25, 2020
Little Free Library stolen, 'community turned a bad situation into a really good one'
Anna Hackel, a substitute teacher with Brevard Public Schools, knows firsthand how important reading is for a child
BREVARD COUNTY • PORT ST. JOHN – This is a tale of how some sweet lemonade can be made from bitter lemons.
Six years ago, Anna Hackel, a firm believer in the power of reading, installed a Little Free Library in her front yard, using a former newspaper newsstand.
The Port St. John resident lovingly painted and decoupaged the box with inspirational sayings such as “a book is a dream you hold in your hands.”
She filled it with books she had bought herself, primarily for kids, although there were some for the adults, as well. She placed it squarely in her front yard, with a little path leading to it and shrubs to enhance its appearance.
“It was always my dream,” she said.
Little free libraries like Hackel’s have sprung up across the nation.
The movement was launched by the nonprofit Little Free Library organization, which has been recognized by the Library of Congress, the National Book Foundation and Library Journal for its contribution to literacy.
The concept is simple. Take a book, return a book. These book exchanges, which come in all shapes and sizes, have been called mini-town squares because they involve a true give-and-take between neighbors.
Hackel, a substitute teacher with Brevard Public Schools, knows firsthand how important reading is for a child.
“I know the significant difference it can make for children to have books in their house,” she said.
Experts agree. One of the most important ways to increase reading achievement in children is to increase access to books since studies have shown that kids growing up in homes without books lag three years behind children in homes with lots of books, even when controlled for other key factors.
At Port St. John, Hackel’s handcrafted Little Free Library was an instant hit.
“It was used multiple times a day,” said Hackel. “Families would walk or drive to it and make it a part of their weekly activities.”
It was even a part of the millions of geocache sites noted in apps. People would stop by, sign the logbook tucked inside and leave stuff like painted rocks or trinkets to commemorate their visit.
During the year, Hackel would theme the available books around upcoming holidays. Hackel’s own two children were unofficial library ambassadors.
“My kids met some really great friends through the little free library,” she said. “It was a family effort.”
The minuscule book depository was happily self-sufficient…until one day it wasn’t there at all.
During the night, someone had taken the Little Free Library.
Hackel noted it on the neighborhood Facebook page, sparking indignation for the theft and a desire to replace the beloved library back where it should belong.
Within 24 hours, friends and neighbors amassed approximately $500 to purchase a sturdy, weather-resistant, two-story Little Free Library model from the nonprofit itself.
“It’s made out of recycled composite, which is even better,” said Hackel.
Whatever happened to the original library?
Hackel notified the police and called salvage yards around town, suspecting the perp had stolen the container to resell.
As it happened, one of the yards had encountered an individual trying to make some money out of an old newspaper stand.
He was not successful, since these containers are illegal to sell at scrap yards. Law enforcement are investigating a possible suspect, so the old beloved newspaper stand may well turn up again.
In the meantime, plans are full steam ahead for a “ribbon-cutting” of the new Port. St. John Little Free Library the first week in November.
A local metal worker has even offered to put a roof over the structure to further protect it from the elements. Other volunteers have come forth to help install it securely in its new spot.
“The community turned a bad situation into a really good one,” said Hackel.
Book donations are always welcome, now and in the future.
“Don’t ever throw away a book,” said Hackel.
Children’s and young adult books are always welcome. Bring books for adults, too, but keep the encyclopedias and dictionaries at home. Remember, it is a Little Free Library and space is limited.
To donate books to Anna Hackel’s Little Free Library, call 321-362-1531.