What looks like a little red birdhouse with a pitched roof sits on a post outside Centreville Elementary School in Virginia, attracting a lot of attention. But there are no birds inside.
The wooden box contains about two dozen children’s books. Any child in the community who wants to read is welcome to pick one.
Promoting love of reading
This little free library was built as a service project by a group of young Girl Scouts at the school.
“It was kind of a challenge,” said Kyra Gosney, one of the scouts. "We had to paint it. We had to attach everything together.”
For Isabella Sursi, it was a learning experience.
“We had to make sure we knew what we were doing," Sursi said. "And we had to discuss the details before we actually did anything with it.”
Her mother, Stephanie Sursi, says - even in this relatively wealthy community - the library serves a purpose.
“There are still children whose parents work two jobs or don’t take them to the library or who simply don’t think of books as presents.”
The girls have collected more than 400 books so far, so they can make sure there is always a wide variety of material in their little library. School librarian Sheri D’Amato monitors what’s placed inside to make sure the books are appropriate for the kids and their reading levels.
“We want kids to have access to books all the time. The school library is not always open," said D'Amato. "We’re not here on the weekend; we’re done by about 4:10 each day. And the public library is not open all the time. These little libraries are always open. You don’t need a card. You don’t need any money.”
These little free libraries can be found all over, even in unexpected places. To share her love of reading, Kristen Brabrook created one in the bakery she manages in Reston, Virginia.
“I am a huge book lover," she said. "I own more books than individual pieces of clothing.”
When she read an article about free little libraries, she knew she wanted one.
“I live in an apartment building," Brabrook said. "So I wasn’t really able to do that, but I thought we could bring it into the store.”
She continues to buy books in order to keep her library fresh and appealing.
“People come in, usually, for cupcakes," Brabrook said. "They'll see the library. They always ask if it costs something, and we say, ‘No, help yourself, please take it.’”
One of the shop’s regular customers, Collin Chartier likes the idea. “I think it’s nice. It’s not necessary, but it kind of makes the atmosphere a little bit better.”
Little free libraries
The idea behind the little free libraries was born three years ago in Hudson, Wisconsin, when former teacher and book lover built a miniature model of a library.
“I originally built a library to honor my mother," said Todd Bol. "I built one and put in out in the front yard and never planned on building another one.”
But his neighbors loved the little wooden box with the books, and that inspired him to set up the Little Free Library Organization
to spread the idea. There are now more than 2500 little libraries across the US and beyond.
“We’ve been called by the Huffington Post 'a growing international phenomenon,'” Bol said.
Getting young people excited about the concept keeps the trend growing.
Kendall Claar, who built Centreville Elementary’s little free library with her friends, says she will miss it next year, when she’s in middle school.
“It’s good to know there’s always going to be a piece of me here for me to like be remembered by,” she said.
And that's a happy ending, in any book.