Kerry G. Hill
By now, Little Free Libraries are a familiar sight around town, a place for neighbors to take a book and leave a book. But one of the newest libraries came from more than just a love of books.
Last fall, Debbie Lloyd was looking for a way to memorialize Maggie, her Bernese Mountain Dog, who'd just died, at age 5½, of cancer. "She was just so engaging," says Lloyd of Maggie, a "giant breed" that, when she stood on her hind legs, could easily put her paws on Lloyd's shoulders. Bernese Mountain Dogs are sometimes described as "St. Bernards on steroids," but Lloyd remembers falling in love with Maggie from the moment she saw her as a puppy.
When Lloyd and her husband, Ric, moved to Madison two years ago from the country outside of Rochester, Minn., they wondered how Maggie, used to roaming free outside, would react to city life in a condo. But Maggie was the one who first made friends in their downtown neighborhood: "I'm more of a quiet person, but she put us out there," Lloyd remembers.
One of their daily stops was the Brittingham dog park. "People recognized her and knew her," says Lloyd. After Maggie died, "We missed that dog world. It's something you do every day, and then you're not part of it."
Lloyd, a former librarian, was entranced by the Little Free Libraries she'd encountered on her bike trips around Madison, and decided to establish one at Brittingham - one of the city's smallest, but very well used, off-leash dog parks. It took a while to figure out the correct procedure for putting the library in a public park (it hadn't been done before; most are in private yards). But at the end of July, Maggie's little library was up, with help from the Lloyds' neighborhood association, Capitol Neighborhoods; her brother-in-law, Kim Dary, who built the box; and her sister, Beth Dary, who painted an extraordinary likeness of Maggie on one side and a commemorative poem on the other.
"It was a blistering hot day," Lloyd says of the afternoon they poured the cement, got the box up and filled it with books. The next day, says Lloyd, when she checked the library, "All the books were different. I was thrilled."
Lloyd checks the box almost every day and restocks it when the number of titles dwindles. And she's recently added bookmarks with Maggie's photo, with the invitation for readers leaving a book to explain on the marker why they liked it.
Lloyd is happy the library is contributing to the neighborhood and enhancing the somewhat scruffy, but much appreciated, urban park a little bit. The process has also helped Lloyd come to terms with her own grief. "Maggie went fast. It was a bad ending. This has helped tremendously.
"She stole my heart," says Lloyd. "This way, she lives on."
Maggie's Little Free Library is on South Broom Street near the railroad tracks that parallel John Nolen Drive, at the entrance to the Brittingham Dog Park.