The collections at some of Raleigh’s newest public libraries are limited. Most, after all, aren’t much bigger than a large bird house.
But these Little Free Libraries – boxes that provide a place to trade books and make connections – are part of a booming national movement that’s being lauded for encouraging both reading and community. This week, The News & Observer will open two such libraries at its building in downtown Raleigh.
The idea behind them is simple: visitors take books from the library “box” and, if they want, replenish the supply with one of their own.
It began in 2009, when Todd Bol of Hudson, Wis., built a replica of a red schoolhouse to honor his late mother. Five years after that first box, the number of these little libraries is approaching 20,000 worldwide. North Carolina now has more than 190 scattered from Boone to Nags Head.
The official boxes are registered with the Little Free Library group, a Wisconsin-based nonprofit that promotes the libraries and champions an array of literacy and community projects, but some independent libraries also exist.
Most boxes are erected and maintained in front of houses by the people who live there. In the Triangle, libraries have also been erected in downtown Wendell, in downtown Fuquay-Varina and at A.B. Combs Elementary School in Raleigh. In Apex, a Little Free Library is located in the Ambassador’s Garden on the corner of Saunders and North Salem Streets downtown. Some little libraries also contain notebooks, where patrons can jot comments or book reviews.
Teresa Leonard, director of news research at The News & Observer, is responsible for putting the libraries together. “I want to encourage reading and getting books into people’s hands, and thought this would be a good way to do that,” said Leonard, who is a librarian herself. “I read about the tiny libraries several years ago and always thought it would be a good thing to do here.”
Bol, who heads the Little Free Library nonprofit, says he’s as surprised as anyone at how the concept has taken off.
Obviously, something about these boxes catches the imagination. Maybe it’s their whimsy – or their low-tech practically. Or maybe it’s how they can connect both neighbors and strangers, one book at time. “It’s got to be something primal with us,” Bol says, “that we have this need to connect with each other.”
The Little Free Libraries at The News & Observer are both made from old newspaper boxes. One will be located on the front porch and accessible at any time; the other is inside the lobby, accessible during normal daytime business hours.
Last year, the Little Free Library organization made Reader’s Digest’s list of “50 Surprising Reasons We Love America.” It came in 11th, after sliced bread, but ahead of Bruce Springsteen and Bill Gates.