They’re sprouting up around the North End like spring flowers – and they’re as delightful as flowers to the eye of a book lover.
They’re Little Free Libraries, weather-proof boxes full of books for neighbors and passersby to share.
Tacoma’s Little Free Libraries are part of a movement started in Wisconsin in 2009. They’re popping up all over the United States – and world – Uganda, Iceland, Vietnam. Every Little Free Library that registers with littlefreelibrary.org gets a marker on the map, a charter number and a wooden sign saying “Celebrating Healthier Neighborhoods” and “Take a book, Return a Book.”
Tacoma has 19 Little Free Libraries listed on littlefreelibrary.org. Twelve of the 19 are in the North End. Soon it will be 13 of 20. (Immanuel Presbyterian Church has just received a charter number from the organization and will be putting up its Little Free Library at the corner of North 9th and J Streets.)
Libraries can be stewarded by individuals, organizations or businesses. There’s one at Sherman Elementary School. Downtown, the art store Tinkertopia hosts one. Madigan Medical Library also stewards a Little Free Library.
Many look like miniature houses on a post. The website offers some models for sale. ($175 to $799) and free plans. But designs are only limited by available materials, skill and imagination as evidenced by LFL’s Flickr and Pinterest sites.
In the North End, some are painted to match the homes they stand in front of, some more fancifully. One is fashioned from an old microwave oven. Another library is made up of a trio of containers – two former newspaper stands and an old Snapple cooler. Another is built from an old headboard, cupboard face and linoleum tiles. One uses material from former beehives.
But in every case, open the doors and you’ll find books – mysteries, literary fiction, travel guides, kids books, cookbooks and much more.
A recent tour through the neighborhood’s little libraries revealed an eclectic assortment of literature: Redneck Dictionary II, by Jeff Foxworthy; Jazz, by Toni Morrison; Friends Forever, by Danielle Steele;; April 1865, by Jay Winik; Go Dog Go, by P.D. Eastman; You Just Don’t Understand, by Deborah Tannen; The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, by Haruki Murakami; Guernica, a best seller by local author Dave Boling – and The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate, the fictionalized tale of “our” gorilla Ivan (also the 2013 Newbery Medal winner). Next week it will all be different.
Jean McCord started her Little Free Library in August 2013, in time for her 70th birthday.
She has a Little Free Library compound – two old former newspaper racks and the discarded Snapple refrigerator. She reserves one of the newspaper boxes for children’s and young adult books and the former cooler for a themed display.
“I’ve had Christmas, mysteries animals and Little House/Louisa May Alcott themes, so far,” she says.
McCord says her library has been active. She changes out the books often, buying them at yard sales and soliciting contributions from friends. She says the children’s books move fastest and there’s more activity when the weather is nice.
Her library was named a “Library of Distinction” by the Little Free Library organization for its “unique design and the creativity and enthusiasm” she has put into it.
When it’s noted that most of Little Free Libraries are in the North End, McCord said, Actually, I wish there were more in the underserved areas.”
McCord offers advice for those planning to start a Little Free Library:
“Carry notices around to houses in as many nearby blocks as you can. Answer all the questions you can. Explain that you don’t want sectarian religion, overly sexy books, partisan politics, or excessive gore. (One neighbor said she likes mysteries, but they all have some sex in them; would it be a problem if she donated them? That’s when I explained that some sex was okay, but not “Fifty Shades of Gray.”) Send emails to all your friends.”
Margaret Heizenrader, used scrap lumber and materials from her old beehives to build her North 19th Street Little Free
Library after she developed a bee sting allergy.
Her library, which is dedicated to the Library of Alexandria, has a bench next to it. She says she and her husband put the bench in especially for an older neighbor who takes regular walks. “By the time he gets to our house, he’s ready for a rest.”
Heiznerader has also noticed a young mother taking her baby for a walk who stops to read for a bit.
The home is a block from the University of Puget Sound, so students use the bench, too.
Here’s some information, tales and advice from other North End Little Free Library stewards (received via email):
From Julie Malgesini, whose library is on North 18th Street:
“Last summer I took a break from work and started thinking about building my own library. I visited the four Tacoma Little Free Libraries that were listed on the website at the time to see what they looked like and how they were installed. The prebuilt ones that can be ordered on the website were a bit pricey for me, plus I love a good challenge.
“The wood materials I already had. A very nice neighbor donated roof shingles, another very nice neighbor evened out my saw cuts for the door and roof lines, and I bought the former cabinet door, plexiglass, roof tarpaper and roofing nails at the Tacoma Habitat for Humanity Store where I volunteer. The monetary costs were very little. I painted it to match my house and used enough caulk to have sealed my house! However, that caulk has kept my Little Free Library dry inside during a very wet six months.
“I wasn’t sure how to mount it, but I ended up smothering a concrete/brick fence post with glue and setting the library on top. So far, it has held!
“The children next door were the first ‘borrowers’ at my Grand Opening and have had fun with it.”
From Bob Jones, whose library is on West Road:
Our library has been up since November 2012. (My brother and I installed a second library on our vacation property in Packwood. It has been up since last summer and is doing great business.)
We built our own libraries. It took half a dozen old men (including two engineers) about 10 Saturdays to complete the project. One non-engineer could easily build one in a single weekend. I don’t want to disparage our helpers. I’m sure we wound up with a slightly better end-product and we had a lot of fun arguing about nothing.
There is activity every day. Typical inventory ranges from 20-35 titles. In addition to normal ins and outs, we have small group of very loyal patrons. Just when pickings get thin, someone will show up with a shopping bag of new inventory. All good!
It has been a very rewarding experience. We’ve met new neighbors and talked to others we haven’t chatted with in years. As mentioned, this was so much fun we did it twice.
From Craig Rounds, whose library is on North Oakes Street:
“I built this one from an old headboard, cupboard face and linoleum tiles. Putting it up only took time. None of it hard.”
We knocked doors for two blocks all around to invite the neighbors to come and be a part of it. This helped get it attention and get people to keep on eye on it.
“Don’t just build it and put it out there. Register it on the web, put out flyers and knock on doors to announce it for theneighborhood. Ask them to participate.
“People out for a walk enjoy seeing what’s inside. We have numerous opportunities to visit over it and get to know our neighbors in the process.
From Rachael Bouma, whose library is on North Prospect Street:
“We put ours in in July 2013. It was my Mother’s Day gift.
“We bought it from the Little Free Library website. It came unpainted and so my husband and children painted it to match our house. It wasn’t too hard to put up. We needed a hole, cement and a post.
“We’ve met a lot of neighbors who were stopping by.
“It’s a wonderful, community building experience for our family!
“Host a ‘library opening’! I wish we had.”