Todd Bol died yesterday of fast-moving cancer at the age of 62, less than a month after receiving his diagnosis; he was the founder of the wildly successful Little Free Library movement (previously).
Bol insisted that Little Free Libraries should be a nonprofit venture in order to "protect the mission" from pressure by investors. I have one of Bol's libraries on my own front lawn. Bol was inspired to start Little Free Library when he read Martin Luther King's answer to the question, "What would you do if you knew you were going to die tomorrow?" I would plant an apple tree.
But more and more, Bol sees the libraries as hubs, nudges, fulcrums. Books to get people reading — but also talking, listening, transforming. Little Free Library now works with law enforcement, turning police cruisers into bookmobiles. It launched Action Book Club last year, which encourages members to read books on timely topics, then do service projects together. The organization is also talking tutoring these days, because why not?
"Wouldn't it be cool if every Little Free Library could connect you with tutoring?" Bol said, his eyes wide behind horn-rimmed glasses. "There are so many different ways of using Little Free Libraries as a spark within the community."
Those big goals explain why Bol founded Little Free Library as a nonprofit in 2012, said his brother Tony Bol. After working with Little Free Library for five years, Tony is stepping into Todd's speaking and public relations roles. "Everyone was trying to talk him into being a for-profit company," Tony said, which would have allowed more flexibility and less accountability. But more than a decade ago, Todd was bounced from a company he founded to fix the nursing shortage, so he was wary of investors shifting an organization's direction.
After terminal cancer diagnosis, Little Free Library founder feels like 'most successful person I know' [Jenna Ross/Star Tribune]
(Image: John Phelan, CC-BY-SA)