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Friday, July 6, 2012

Little Free Neighborhood Libraries

A nationwide movement, Little Free Library prompts bibliophiles to put up small shelved structures outside their homes where people can take books and leave some too. As Martha Groves relates in the Los Angeles Times, the result can be conversation, friendship and a sense of community.

Jonathan Beggs (76) wanted an easy way for his neighbors to share books.

Using odds and ends of fiberboard and Douglas fir, the retired building contractor fashioned a hutch the size of a dollhouse. He gave it a pitched cedar-shingle roof capped with copper. The door, trimmed in bright red, opens to three shelves filled with books by Joyce Carol Oates, Tony Hillerman, James Michener and others. Below hangs a sign: "Take a book or bring a book or both."

The idea was so successful that Beggs kept on adding to his porch-front library, putting in shelves and benches.

In the half a year that his Little Free Library has perched on a post in front of his Sherman Oaks home, it has evolved into much more than a book exchange. It has turned strangers into friends, he says, and a sometimes impersonal neighborhood into a community.

Beggs heard about little libraries from another member of a group interested in self-sufficiency. "I thought it was such a cute idea, so I built one," he said. "It's a lot of fun."

His Little Free Library is part of a movement that started in Wisconsin and has begun to catch on in Southern California. In large cities and small towns, suburbs and rural communities, advocates see the libraries as a way to keep the printed word in the hands of seasoned and budding bibliophiles.

Little Free Library was the inspiration of Todd Bol, who in the fall of 2009 landed on a way to honor his late mother, a book-loving teacher. He built a miniature wooden one-room schoolhouse, mounted it outside his Hudson, Wis., home and stocked it with books. Even on rainy days, friends and neighbors would happen by to make selections, drop off books and remark on the library's cuteness.

Bol, an entrepreneur in international business development, enlisted Rick Brooks, a community outreach specialist in Madison, Wis., to help spread the word. In the last two years, nearly 1,800 library stewards, as Bol calls them, have registered cabinet-size athenaeums in about 45 states and dozens of countries, including Ghana, England and Germany.

Each owner pays $25 to the Little Free Library, a nonprofit organization, for a sign and a number. The group's website features a locater map and photos of people attending grand openings for libraries.

Bol anticipates nearly 3,000 registered libraries by the end of July.


Mark Hubbard said...

Nice concept. I also love the movement - can't remember what it's called - to leave a book in a public place when you've finished reading it, so a stranger can read it: bus stations, etc.

Though ebooks will ultimately be the end of that.

Joan Druett said...

I think that was a movement for leaving books at bus stops -- I have a feeling I blogged about it a couple of years or so back. There is also that lovely movement in Egypt where taxi drivers are given books to carry around and share with their passengers. As for eBooks, I'm interested in how much free stuff there is out there. A friend bought a tablet and hasn't yet had to buy a book, though he is constantly reading.

Mark Hubbard said...

There's lots of free content, for example Project Gutenberg must be a long way along their path of having up for free download all works out of copyright. For me, though, there's only so many old classics I can read. I love modern literary fiction that deals with the world I live in, so that means paying for most of the books I read, which is fine, because it's supporting a book world that gives me more pleasure than probably anything else. Mind you, the reading budget is taking a hammering with having just built a new house, so the library ebook service to my iPad is getting more and more depth, slowly, which is welcome.

Although iPads bring in a whole bunch of other reading problems. I'm just about finished a post on that issue I'll probably put up on my blog - which you'll most likely hate, pending your politick - tomorrow.