What’s the size of a birdhouse, full of possible surprises and about to spring up in north Baltimore and perhaps across the city early next year?
No, it’s not more of the dreaded red light cameras! We’re talking about Little Free Libraries.
The Village Learning Place has started a project to build and maintain five of these small, hand-painted, pole-mounted, borrow-and-return free book stations in Charles Village. And they hope the concept spreads elsewhere in town.
Little Free Libraries aren’t meant to replace city libraries or the supply of books available at the Village Learning Place. (VLP is a former Enoch Pratt Free Library branch on St. Paul Street that’s now a non-profit learning center.)
“Little Free Libraries are something that is meant to bring communities together around books outside the library, something that we really want to encourage,” said Lindsey Henley, VLP’s volunteer and community relations coordinator.
It’s an idea that started in Wisconsin three years ago and now hundreds of communities around the country have these little mini-libraries, some of them designed to look like little barns, others with a Tyrolean, Victorian or Bauhaus theme.
The idea is people can simply borrow books they find there for free – they’re just asked to return them. People can also donate books they want to be included on the “library’s” shelves. The boxes have been placed, so far, in front yards, parks and other public places, often mounted on posts like mailboxes.
Henley says VLP showed their turquoise-blue prototype off at the recent Baltimore Book Festival and got a warm reception, with lots of people dropping off and picking up books.
“People just love this idea. You can leave a book you really love and your neighbor might read it. You might end up talking with them about it,” Henley said. “You inspire people to read. You give them a book they might not know about or be able to get.”
The Village Learning Place has started a GiveCorp fundraising project to come up with the $7,000 they figure they need to build the boxes, decorate them, install them, fill them, organize volunteers, pay for fees and permits and maintain them on a regular basis.
(The project is live now, but the Baltimore-based GiveCorps will be featuring it on its website from Oct. 15 – 19th.)
“We’re thinking we’ll have five that we paint and then ultimately five more we hope will be decorated by local artists,” Henley said.
A group from the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt publishing company is coming on Nov. 12 to help the Village Learning Place build the 10 book boxes. They hope to auction the five artist-painted ones off next April, during National Library Week.
Where will the little libraries go when they’re installed in the third week of March 2013? Locations to be determined around Charles Village, Hensley said.
St. Marks Evangelical Lutheran Church at St. Paul and 21st streets has agreed to put a Little Free Library box in their co-op garden, where they plan a reading corner, Henley said.
Henley said they plan to start off with a mix of books appealing to all ages and stock the boxes with books from Baltimore Reads Inc. and from some individual donors who have already come forward.
Events will continue through next spring. The Village Learning Place hopes eventually to highlight the Little Libraries on walking tours and hold workshops in which participants can build their own.
For more information, Henley can be reached at 410-235-2210 ext. 225 or Lindsey.Henley@villagelearningplace.org . They’ve also got a Storify page.