Michaele Yard can’t see it from her house, but every day she sees signs that people have visited the little library she put near the road on her property.
Yard’s Sterling home is in the Kenai Keys, a gated community that isn’t easily accessible from the highways but still, she sees new books and magazines every day.
Michaele and her husband Bob Yard put in their plywood and Plexiglas library July 15 and it has seen significant turnover considering the size of the community, she said.
“I put in a couple copies of Alaska Magazine,” Yard said. “I read a lot of best sellers and I put some of those in and they were gone. Somebody put in some Popular Mechanics the other day and they’re gone. I put three DVDs and one of those is gone. The children’s books all disappeared early on. People are talking about it.”
Yard hasn’t registered her library yet, but when she does, it will be one of a handful in the state added to a growing list of more than 2,700 registered Little Free Libraries and countless more that haven’t been registered.
The Little Free Libraries movement was founded in 2010 by Todd Bol, of Hudson, Wis., and Rick Brooks, an outreach program manager at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Madison said about 70 percent of library builders decide that instead of ordering a library they will strike off on their own like the Yards.
The Little Free Libraries website offers detailed plans and suggestions for where to put a library once it’s built.
“The kit was $400 to buy and you can download the plans on their web site,” Yard said. “So we downloaded the plans and I went to my neighbor Al Fry, who is an excellent carpenter, and I asked him to build it for me. We dug around and looked for anything we had that could be re-purposed.”
The Yards mounted their library on two-by-fours.
“We kind of bear-proofed ours,” she said. “There wasn’t much room for decoration but I put two snowshoes on it. We used some old fencing slats and he made a shingled roof for it and it’s cute. I wasn’t sure that people would know what it is but they seem to.”
Brooks said he sees photographs of new and intricately designed libraries from all over the world on a daily basis.
“It’s kind of a new American craft,” Brooks said. “I’ve seen Yurts, the Taj Mahal, a shark. We’re getting unbelievably sophisticated ones now. They’re building Aldo Leopold’s shack where he wrote the Sand County Almanac. There are several with green roofs and solar energy. There’s a guy making one out of a gas pump. A microwave, a dorm refrigerator, it’s just fascinating. A church funded and built some beautiful ones in New Orleans, largely from debris from Hurricane Katrina.”
Both Brooks and Yard said the project promotes literacy, but also seems to bring the community together in unexpected ways.
“There’s something more going on there than just people taking free books,” Brooks said. “It’s a cute box, we know that, it certainly generates curiosity. There’s as much interest in the craft of building them as there is in the book as there is in the generosity and community-building function.”
The Little Free Libraries organization is moving beyond its original goal of building just over 2000 libraries and is launching a initiative encouraging communities to donate libraries to other underprivileged communities.
A community in Wisconsin called the organization and asked for a library because their town didn’t have one.
“We delivered this library and found the woman who asked for it and left it on her porch,” Brooks said. “They’re going to build one for another town in the next community and they’re building one for the next town.”
So, the small towns initiative was born.
“The intent is ... we want to particularly target towns where they had a library and lost it or they never had one — all over the world,” he said. “People can build little libraries, share free books and promote that type of generosity. Giving a part of themselves that says, ‘We’re here and you’re not alone.’”
Yards, a retired teacher, said she hopes people will experiment with other genres of literature when they see her library.
While Yards and her husband both have Kindles, she insists there’s something comforting about holding a book that can’t be replicated by the electronic reader.
“You can’t take a Kindle and a glass of wine and get in the bathtub,” she said.
She’ll continue to pick up paperbacks at garage sales and put in the books she’s read, but Yards said she hopes others will be equally as generous.
“I just hope it’ll get people to take a walk, walk by it, stop and look at books; pick up a book or a magazine, read something they wouldn’t have normally read. Times are hard, books are expensive,” she said. “It’s nice to think that someone doesn’t have to go out and spend 10 or 15 dollars on a book because a neighbor was nice enough to share with them.”
Editor's note: This story has been edited for clarity.
Rashah McChesney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.