Our public libraries have made remarkable strides when it comes to technology. Computers and other electronic gadgetry have revolutionized the services available to anyone ambitious enough to apply for a library card.

But, as Lisa Flaherty reminds us, getting back to basics isn't always a bad thing. Her example is a good one for others to follow.

Four years ago, Flaherty read about the Little Free Library program - started by the late Todd Bol in 2009 as a tribute to his mother, who was a teacher and book lover. Bol created a miniature version of a one-room schoolhouse on a post outside his home, filled it with books and invited neighbors to borrow them. The idea caught on and today there are more than 75,000 registered Little Free Libraries worldwide.

The idea is a simple one: Get people to read. Not everyone has the luxury of a public library nearby, and the purpose of the Little Free Library is to provide access to books for people who might not otherwise have it. The libraries look something like large mailboxes, usually with a clear front panel to display books stocked inside. People are encouraged to take books home, or to leave books behind for others to enjoy.

Regarding the growing phenomenon, American Libraries magazine last January stated: “On front lawns and street corners. In parks, community centers and hospitals. You can even find them at beaches, malls and barbershops."

Flaherty was living in Bouckville when she read about the library program and thought that Madison Central School would be the ideal location. She presented a proposal to the Oriskany Falls Rotary Club, and opened the first Little Free Library between the school’s playgrounds on May 13, 2015. There were no rules as long as the children were reading.

Flaherty later opened another library and since moving to Eaton, has opened a third.

“I think these libraries are important for a few reasons — hopefully to encourage children to read, create parent and caregiver interaction by reading to or with their children and to get the books to the children,” shares Flaherty. “In some cases, it may be the only thing that is theirs.”

Flaherty is absolutely right and that's a reality we must all embrace. Reading is essential to a child's whole education. Children who struggle to read could slip through the educational cracks and fall behind in school. They often become discouraged and as they fall further behind, may give up and drop out of school. That puts them a a great disadvantage when it comes to find a good job in the future.

Turning them on to reading at an early age and helping them overcome any reading difficulties can raise their consciousness, boost self-esteem and establish the foundation all children need to succeed. In that regard, the Little Free Library may be free, but it can pay big dividends.

Start your own library 

Establishing a free library involves more than just building a station and filling it. Littlefreelibrary.org offers step-by-step advice:

• Identify legally where a station can be built. Consider zoning laws and size and height rules from your homeowner’s association. Even if property is privately owned, look into how far back from the road, for example, it needs to be installed.

• Designate a library steward. Someone will need to maintain the station and weed out books due to condition or content.

• Build, hire someone to build or order a station. Videos at littlefreelibrary.org and other sites instruct on how to build and install. Glean clever, whimsical and theme-related ideas for overall design and decoration.

• Register with littlefreelibrary.org for support, benefits and an official Little Free Library charter sign.

• Publicize throughout the neighborhood and community by word of mouth, a press release and social media.

• Add the free library to an online world map at littlefreelibrary.org/ourmap and interact with other free library stewards.