Georgia First Lady Helps Debut Little Lending Libraries in Pierce County

First lady Sandra Deal visited Pierce County last week to help debut Little Lending Libraries in the county. Stephanie Bell, executive director of Pierce County Family Connection, shares how the idea to get books into the hands of the community’s most vulnerable children became a reality.

by Stephanie Bell

Projects like the Little Lending Libraries don’t just spring up. Someone has an idea and shares it, but too often the support an idea needs to bloom doesn’t take root and the project fades away.

My husband, Mike, and I were not going to let this project fade. We decided we were going to build these little libraries and install them—with or without help. But we didn’t have to, because collaboration and collective effort quickly emerged.

Susan Sweat of Pierce County’s Friends of the Library, who was already considering partnering with Family Connection in our literacy efforts, thought the Little Lending Libraries would be a great opportunity to begin that relationship. Soon after that, David Rollison, Friends of the Pierce County Public Library president, received funding to build two of the proposed five little libraries in the county.

That was only the beginning of this journey. Mike had never built a little library and we only had rough plans to go by, so like the incredibly handy man he is, he tweaked the plans and began to build.

When the Secretary of State Student Ambassadors heard whispers of the project, Pierce County Chamber of Commerce Director Angela Manders said they desperately wanted to be part of it, so we gladly put them to work.

I gave the student ambassadors artistic license to come up with the exterior design and encouraged them to choose their favorite book covers to decorate the little libraries. Turning over such a crucial task to a group of teens requires a lot of trust, but I was confident that they had it in them to create something awe-inspiring and beautiful to both young and old alike. I was thrilled with their choices.

As the project picked up steam, our entire community eagerly jumped in to help—from the City Council giving us permission to place a Little Lending Library in the Blackshear City Park, to all the organizations asking to coordinate book drives to keep our little libraries’ shelves filled.

What more could be done to promote this project? How about a visit from Georgia’s first lady, Mrs. Sandra Deal to attend a ribbon-cutting ceremony to open our first Little Library?

I sent an email to a friend who works with the governor asking her if she thought Mrs. Deal might be interested in attending a ribbon cutting for the event.

I learned that Mrs. Deal is the daughter of educators and has dedicated her life to encouraging childhood education—and in her role as Georgia’s first lady, promoting literacy has been one of her top priorities. Mrs. Deal, who was traveling across the state to read to Georgia’s Pre-K and elementary school students during the month of March to promote statewide childhood literacy, graciously worked our event into her schedule and participated in our ribbon-cutting event.

Pierce County is known for making things happen, and with help from Angela Manders, René Bolden with Main Street Blackshear, and Matt Carter with the Pierce County Industrial Development Authority, we were ready for the first lady’s visit on March 27.

A few weeks before the ribbon cutting ceremony, David Rollison passed away unexpectedly. It was heart-breaking for the entire community, because we lost an amazing champion for literacy.

Then, two days before the ceremony, a freak accident left the roof of our first Little Lending Library crushed, along with our dreams of completing the project on time. But miracles do happen. Mike said, “I can fix this!”  And he rebuilt the roof and primed it so I could repaint and seal the wood. It was an all-night affair—but Sunday came, and we installed that little library without a hitch.

When March 27 arrived, guests bustled around the Blackshear City Park. The program was designed to look like a book page, and our first Little Lending Library was dedicated in honor of David:

“Dedicated in loving memory to David Rollison. A literal Captain among men who shared his love of reading and life with a community that in return shared their love and admiration of him. Thank you, David, may your heaven be filled with endless libraries where you can read on your front porch and occasionally look up to enjoy the view.”

Mrs. Deal spoke about literacy for all children in Georgia. As a former sixth-grade teacher she understands the importance—not only of teaching children to read—but also instilling in them that love of reading so they may spend a lifetime learning. The First Lady generously donated five books she signed for the shelves in our little library.

A flurry of social media posts blasted the community that afternoon with the excitement of the new addition to the park. Elena Ryals, a follower on our Pierce County Family Connection Facebook page, left a comment:

“I was in the park today with my two kids. They saw a couple of others get some books and wanted to check things out. They were excited when I explained to them they could borrow and leave books here. After a few minutes, several kids were swinging and reading. The artwork is beautiful and the idea is wonderful–great job!!”

This is why we love our Little Lending Library. Because research tells us that one of the most successful ways to improve reading achievement of children is to increase their access to books—especially at home. But we know that too many low-income families in our community don’t have any books for their children at home. Our Little Lending Libraries will give all our families access to books and foster a love of reading in Pierce County.

With the installation of our Little Lending Libraries we will be able to place a book in the hands of any child who can walk to them. We are planning to build and install four more throughout the county, and we would eventually like to see more and more and more.

We’re always looking for investors, sponsors, and partners, so if you know of anyone who would like to join us, please send them our way by contacting me at or at 912-230-7835.

And remember: teamwork, collaboration, and passion for change are what drive projects. Never give up, if you truly believe it’s worthwhile, eventually someone else will start believing too!