Book sharing program aims to bond neighbors
(pictured above: President Sandra Stinson (second from left) celebrates the library’s opening with fellow Neal Place residents.)
They’re little, but their ability to bring communities closer together is gargantuan.
Recently, residents of the Boston-Thurmond and Neal Place communities – both off University Parkway – celebrated the installation of four Little Free Libraries – compact, outdoor structures that house free books for passers-by to borrow or keep.
“The purpose behind it is not only to promote literacy, but to promote community,” explained city native Sarah Maxey, who spearheaded the local project. “…Everybody’s welcome to share it, and I feel like the more people that are connected to it, the more successful it’ll be.”
Residents are invited to take books from the libraries, read them, and either bring them back or replace them with another well-loved edition. The hope is that the libraries will become gathering places, connection points where community members can share their lives, via exchanged titles, notes and any other method they care to dream up.
“It’s amazing. It’s just like a web and everybody is sort of connected in a way,” said Maxey, a recent graduate of UNC Chapel Hill. “It’s become really fun, so I hope that that’s what it continues to do. I hope that it continues to promote a sense of community.”
Maxey said she stumbled upon the Little Free Libraries concept – which has manifested into more than 10,000 libraries worldwide – online late last summer and decided she wanted to create her own.
“I always feel like I need to be doing something in the community, so I was looking for that something,” related the 24-year-old. “…I was just on the Internet, on Pinterest or something, and I saw it, and I was like, ‘That’s really cool.’”
So Maxey started a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to fund her own project. She was initially hoping to raise $175 to cover the cost of building, registering and stocking the library, but Maxey says the project quickly took on a life of its own.
Just days after she launched her campaign, Kickstarter featured Maxey’s effort among “Projects We Love” in ita newsletter, and the donations began pouring in. By the end of her 30 day campaign, Maxey had raised her $175, nearly 60 times over, amassing a whopping $10,402 from more than 580 individual donors for the project.
“People donated from everywhere. I had someone from Australia, Hong Kong – it was just crazy how many people wanted to help,” she declared. “…A small donation from each person turned into this huge thing that now can affect so many people, and that was the thing I found really interesting and exciting about it.”
Habitat for Humanity of Forsyth County’s Kelly Mitter has also played an integral role in the effort. Mitter said a Habitat volunteer had previously approached him with the idea of starting a Little Free Library, and Maxey’s effort provided a welcome opportunity for collaboration. Mitter helped Maxey assemble a group of handy volunteers to construct the libraries and coordinate with community leaders to identify ideal locations for the structures.
Sandra Stinson, president of the Neal Place Neighborhood Association, said she jumped at the chance to get her community – which is home to dozens of Habitat homeowners – involved in the project. She encouraged her neighbors to donate books with notes inside them telling what the book meant to the donor. She is hoping that the readers will reciprocate with personal notes of their own. The library compliments an ongoing community building effort in the area that includes the adjacent community garden and the establishment of a community youth group and community center, which are both forthcoming, Stinson said. Plans for a beautification effort around the library – complete with a bench constructed by one of her neighbors, is already underway, she revealed.
“We have a lot of foot traffic in the area and we thought it would be great to engage the people in surrounding areas,” said Stinson, a member of Habitat’s Board of Directors. “We’re hoping that as the weather warms up, people will come and sit out in that area and read books.”
Dr. Amber Baker, principal of Kimberley Park Elementary School, said she believes the the Little Free Library that was installed across the street from her campus will be a valuable community building tool.
“We’ve really built this extended sense of community and the neighborhood embracing the school,” she stated. “I think they’ll see this that same kind of way, as (something) that really blends neighborhood and school.”
The school is planning to take stewardship of the library, keeping it stocked and allowing Kimberley students to decorate the library and make it their own, Baker said.
“I think anytime you can get books in the hands of children and adults alike in a non-threatening way, it’s wonderful,” she remarked. “Even if they don’t bring the book back, that’s one more book they have in their homes, so that’s wonderful.”
Maxey is planning to open the next handful of Little Free Library locations early next month, and says she is actively recruiting book donations and community volunteers to serve as stewards for specific locations. She has more than 20 libraries built and ready to go so far, but, given its brief, yet “storied” history, Maxey says she has learned not to place limits on the project.
“I would love to saturate the city with them,” she said of the libraries. “I think that would be great.”
For more information about stewardship, donations or to request a Little Free Library in your community, visit https://www.facebook.com/littlefreelibrarync. Local Little Free Libraries locations will be added to an interactive map at http://littlefreelibrary.org/ as they become available.