Shaded by a mulberry tree, a new little (very little) bungalow of books has taken root on Wilton Drive in Decatur.
The doll-house-sized structure, with a shingled roof and Plexiglass door, carries a few dozen books — mysteries, children’s books, several Nora Robert’s books and a paperback with tips for older runners.
The concept is simple: take a book, share a book.
On Wilton, and elsewhere around metro Atlanta, these tiny book nooks are quickly becoming the literary heart of the neighborhood.
They are part of a nationwide “Little Free Library” grassroots push encouraging neighborhoods everywhere to set up public places for sharing books.
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“A lot of people stop, and cars will just stop and people look. Some people walking are just discovering it, and some already come here regularly,” said Linda Anderson, who offered up a slice of her property for the book swapping. “It’s a good little movement.”
Little Free Libraries was started in 2009 by a couple of friends in the Midwest who shared a passion in small businesses, green practices and “the quality of community life around the world,” according to their website. In recent months, this big idea (in a small wooden box) has picked up steam. Little Free Libraries recently exceeded the 2,509 libraries built by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.
From Decatur and Druid Hills to Buford, Smyrna and Duluth, metro Atlanta is home to about 10 public bookshelves registered with littlefreelibrary.org. (On the website, a map lists the GPS coordinates.) The book cabinets are sturdy and small — and waterproof. Some of the public bookshelves look like large birdhouses; others are shaped like over-sized mailboxes. Some are simple, wooden structures. Others are more elaborate, adorned with painted butterflies or encrusted with bottle caps.
This year, the AJC Decatur Book Festival turned to local artists to use their talents on these mini-libraries. A dozen will be auctioned off, including one by Pete the Cat cartoonist James Dean, and another box by AJC editorial cartoonist Mike Luckovich. They will be on display on Decatur Square and will be open to bidding until Sunday afternoon.
Roger Wagner of Decatur got help with a design plan from littlefreelibrary.org, and then crafted the little house himself using mostly recycled materials. His neighborhood Ace Hardware store on Scott Boulevard donated the Plexiglass. Neighbors also chipped in. Wagner, a retired teacher and administrator, placed fliers in mailboxes to spread the word. Children in the neighborhood painted the little house. It even includes a painting of a dachshund, a nod to two beloved dogs in the neighborhood.
In Duluth, Jenna Gardner received a Little Free Library, as a Mother’s Day gift from her husband, Jason, and daughter, Cheyenne.
“I thought it was the coolest thing that I could have a library right outside my house,” said Gardner, who teaches at Meadowcreek High School. “Nothing makes an English teacher happier than someone picking up a book to read.”
She stocked the library with a mix of children’s books, including the “Giving Tree,” along with the best-selling “Hunger Games” and the classic “Pride and Prejudice.” She noticed a girl in the neighborhood pick out a book, and then place a well-read Beverly Cleary book into the little library in front of her house on a cul-de-sac.
Here and elsewhere, these tiny libraries seem to be self-sustaining: books constantly cycling in and out.
Jon Abercrombie, chairman of the DeKalb County Public Library Board of Trustees, is surprised by the immediate impact of this little box on his street.
“I do a lot of community building and I know small and symbolic things can have a greater impact,” Abercrombie said. “I have been amazed at how many times I walk the street and I tell someone they need to check out the little free library, and they will say they already have or they will tell me about the book they got from this little place on the side of the street.”
Abercrombie, himself, was reintroduced to Carl Hiaasen, picking out “Sick Puppy” from the little library. He loved it. He has since returned and picked out a second Hiaasen book: “Star Island.”
“It’s a little reminder as you go up and down our street about your neighbors you connect to, but also the power of the written word,” he said.