Community rebuilds Cottonwood’s Little Free Library after senseless vandalism

The Little Free Library shown here to the right at Cottonwood Park was vandalized and stolen last month. (City of Clovis)

The last week of March, citizens who frequent the trail that runs through Cottonwood Park were likely wondering what happened to the Little Free Library that has stood as a fixture near the creek for the last three years.

By far the most well stocked and popular Little Free Library of the seven now in Clovis, the Cottonwood little library had recently experienced some abuse when vandals painted it with graffiti for the first time in its short life. But, city recreation staff never anticipated that someone could destroy the literacy-promoting community feature.

General Services Director Amy Hance said one day the Little Free Library was there and the next day it had vanished.

“I noticed [mid-March] it got tagged by someone, but then on March 29, I received an email from the parks manager saying it was gone, the stand and everything,” Hance said. “We went out there and you could look down the embankment there at the creek and see some torn pages of a book. It looked like a crime scene.”

The Little Free Library is a nationwide nonprofit program that encourages literacy and a love for reading, by allowing spaces for communities to share books. The idea is when you take a book, you leave another in its place for others to read. You can then come back and return it when you’re done and swap it for another, and so on.

Mayor Bob Whalen first presented the idea of bringing the program to Clovis at a city council meeting in 2015. When retired sergeant, current Clovis planning commissioner and frequent council meeting attendee Mike Cunningham heard the presentation, he was inspired to spring into action. A woodworking enthusiast, Cunningham volunteered to construct the first prototype. It cost $400 and took him two weeks to build, but Cunningham said it was well worth it.

“I think this is a universal need; it’s useful for education,” Cunningham said. “It is well used in the community and it’s my donation and my way of giving back and loving the community.”

After building the first one, Cunningham never expected to become a local leader for Little Free Libraries, but the first one did so well he has since built two more Little Free Libraries—one at Dry Creek Trailhead and one at Bicentennial Park.

Other Little Free Libraries in Clovis include one by Miss Winkles Pet Adoption facility on Sierra and Temperance, one at Helm Ranch Park on Ashlan and Minnewawa, one at Nees and Minnewawa across from Veterans Memorial Stadium at Buchanan, and one at Shaw and Locan in the developing Loma Vista area.

Hance said Little Free Libraries will be popping up throughout the city in the near future. Specifically, she is working to get one near a transit stop location so those traveling by bus can take a book and leave one as they wait for and ride public transportation.

As for the one in Cottonwood Park—the very first and most used Little Free Library in Clovis—Cunningham said a replacement he is building will be up soon.

With a new, more simplified design and more experience, Cunningham said the new one is nearly completed as it will only take him 48 hours to construct. It also costs around half the price of the initial one, about $200 for materials.

It isn’t cheap, Cunningham said, but it’s his service to the community and he won’t let vandals ruin his efforts.

“If I knew who destroyed it, I’d have the golden key,” Cunningham said, adding that he has a couple theories but can’t say for sure what happened to the first Little Free Library he built.

Like Cunningham, Whalen said those who wish to destroy will not win because Clovis will
always respond as a community.

“When the Little Free Libraries went up, we accepted that vandalism would likely take place,” Whalen said. “For the most part, they have been vandalism free for all these year and just some maintenance was required periodically. Now that we’ve experienced this nonsensical removal of the one at Cottonwood Park, we’ll respond as Clovis always does—as a community. It would be just like Clovis to be able to turn around this destructive act by the ignorant into a creative response from the wise.”