Since my last blog post on Tuesday, I’ve had very limited access to the internet due to travel. The illusion of free wi-fi in public places is, well, illusory.

In Wisconsin this past week, my search for internet access brought me back into the libraries of my youth. New buildings and outstanding collections have replaced what stood bolted down in the 1970s section of my memory. The Neenah library still overlooks the Fox River on the same corner on Wisconsin Avenue but everything else has changed.

Madison is a city that loves books; always has. Early in the morning before patron hours, I sat in my rental car with my laptop and got access at the neighborhood branch library. My friend, Amy Anderson, and I had breakfast yesterday morning at Lazy Jane’s and then walked around the neighborhood. It was then when I realized again I had discovered the Gospel of Books and its spirit in my Wisconsin years.

Lutie Stearns in the late 1800s started the books in a box program. This pioneer of the public library movement went from small town to tiny village across the state with a social movement to bring books to people. Her traveling libraries in isolated communities, logging camps, schools, and farming villages started in 1895 with simple wooden boxes filled with an assortment of books. She convinced post masters or general store clerks to host the box and build a library board of 10 adults and follow a simple set of check-in, check-out rules for free public circulation. Her passion for the creation of an informed and educated citizenry inspires me with the simple faith in the power of books to change the world.

page 58 Books in a Box, Stotts

Photo on p. 58 of Stotts, Books in a Box: Lutie Stearns and the Traveling Libraries of Wisconsin


I learned about Lutie Stearns’ story in more depth when Amy and I were walking around the Lakeside neighborhood and came up a Little Free Library box. Inside I found Stuart Stotts, Books in a Box, Big Valley Press, 2005. This captivating story of Lutie Stearns, written as creative historical non-fiction for young adults, is a treasure.

free books on Madison sidewalk

The Little Free Library idea is one I am bringing home to my Boiceville neighborhood. One of the first books that goes in our new library will be Lutie Stearns’ grassroots story of “social media.”

When it comes to books and social media, authors need to think like Lutie. It’s not about having more than 10,000 Twitter followers or how your klout score is. The power of ideas contained in books makes them transformative social forces.

Stepping away from the internet for a few days put me on a strict social media diet. Instead of lollygagging non-stop online, it got me out of the box and back into the love of books.

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