Kiwanians in Kansas create Little Free Libraries in courts.
By Julie Saetre
When Melissa Bynum attended her first Kiwanis International convention in 2022, she heard a lot about the Kiwanis causes: health and nutrition, education and literacy, and youth leadership development. The “literacy” concept particularly caught her attention.
Bynum’s club, the Kansas City-West Kiwanis Club in Kansas, U.S., focuses a number of projects on nutrition — from packing and providing weekend snack packs to local elementary school students to picking pears and apples from an area orchard for organizations that assist kids. While members also provide books to new moms and read at area schools, Bynum thought another ongoing literacy effort should be added to the club’s project list.
Bynum remembered that a fellow member, Pat Hurrelbrink, had previously mentioned Little Free Library — a Kiwanis International partner. Bynum returned from the convention and talked with club members about where Little Free Libraries were needed in their community.
Their consensus: court buildings.
“We decided that the courthouse and municipal building were good places because that’s a place where Mom and Dad don’t want to go. And the kids sure as heck don’t want to go with them,” Bynum says. “We thought that it might be a good way to give them a book — to give them something to do, keep them occupied and possibly help endear them to reading.”
Kansas City, Kansas, has a unified city-county government, so the club contacted representatives about placing and maintaining Little Free Libraries at the Wyandotte County Courthouse and the Municipal Court across the site. Not only did the city-county government agree, but it also offered to buy multiple library carts — each costing several hundred U.S. dollars — to hold the books. Club members added Kiwanis signage to each cart and set about gathering new or gently used books.
“We have club members who have children and grandchildren and they’re like, ‘OK, time to clean out your bookshelves,’” Bynum says. “And we’ve put the word out to our friends and family: ‘Hey, ask your kids about books they’re willing to give up.’”
Pat Hurrelbrink and her husband, Dave (a former Kiwanis International trustee), searched garage sales and thrift stores, where they often found books in pristine condition. And at a surprise birthday party for Bynum, guests brought books for the libraries as gifts.
Club members put a sticker on the inside of each book to show that it was provided by the Kiwanis Club of Kansas City-West. Four Little Free Libraries now offer books in the courthouse, with another in the Municipal Court. Two club members — one a judge, the other a sheriff — monitor book supplies as they go about their daily jobs and notify the club when more books are needed.
“It’s probably not an understatement to say that we’ve already distributed over 1,000 books, and we’ve maybe been doing this for only six months,” says Bynum. “You know, I may never see that young person take that book. But based on the frequency with which we are replenishing those shelves, I feel like we are making an impact.”