Imagine building a dollhouse-like structure, sitting it atop a post and putting it in the ground in front of a home or a park. Then fill it with books and watch what happens.
David Laufer did just that in April in front of his Druid Hills home. Since that time Laufer has met people he would not have met and gets recognized on the street.
Laufer put up the first Little Free Library (LFL) in Georgia and the grassroots concept is catching on like wildfire. The LFL movement began in Wisconsin two years ago and there are an estimated 3,000 units in the United States. The LFL has its own website (www.littlefreelibrary.org) where visitors can learn more about the movement and view a map to determine the closest library.
There are at least seven in DeKalb County, most of which are in the Decatur, Druid Hills and east Atlanta area.
The concept is simple. Take a book or leave a book and build community involvement in the process.
“It’s really about building community at the local level and supporting literacy action,” Laufer said. “Since I put it up I’ve had people stopping by and chatting. It’s a way to get to know your neighbors.”
It is free to put up an LFL, but for $75 an LFL steward gets his or her library on the map and is provided a plaque to put on the structure.
“It’s so free of rules, it’s really refreshing,” Laufer said. “The originators are more interested in the movement than the money.”
Laufer has dedicated his LFL to his late father Anson.
“My dad read to me when I was a kid,” Laufer said. “He was a lover of adventure books so it seemed like the logical thing to do, to dedicate the LFL to him.”
Decatur Book Festival executive director Daren Wang heard about Laufer’s library and came up with a way to get the festival involved. Wang had local craftsman Michael Montgomery build 13 libraries. Wang has commissioned 12 to be decorated by local illustrators and artists and auctioned at the festival later this summer. Montgomery also will decorate one.
“This seems like such a perfect fit for Decatur in general,” Wang said. “I thought we should be taking advantage of this one way or another. The whole [LFL] project has just gone through the roof. This will be an exciting part of the festival.”
Those doing the decorating include local children’s book author/illustrators James Dean and Elizabeth Dulemba, and artist Ruth Franklin. Dean’s latest book Pete the Cat recently topped the New York Times best sellers list, Wang said.
“I suspect some of those will not be public. A James Dean [LFL] may go for a couple thousand dollars so people may not want to put them up,” Wang said.
The idea also is catching on in the East Lake area where four LFLs are in the ground. Jennifer Curtis, a biophysicist at Georgia Tech, put up a library in front of her home on East Lake Drive. Tris Sicignano heard about her friend’s LFL and promptly built and erected three—one for her home on Pharr Road, one for a neighbor and one in front of the community garden across from the East Lake Farmers Market.
A website, www.eastlakelittlelibrary.weebly.com, was created so residents in the community can learn more about the LFLs in East Lake. The site tells where to find the libraries and Curtis provides a list of the books in her library. She also keeps a log of which books were checked out and returned, and which were donated. Curtis also has a small white board in her library where people can write comments.
“It’s a really organic process and it resonates with a lot of people,” Curtis said. “It’s a lot more than giving each other books. It’s an excuse to get to know people you wouldn’t normally meet.”
The two came up with the idea to create a walking path with LFLs.
Said Sicignano: “I’m in love with the idea of sharing. People love the idea of stopping and talking. You wouldn’t normally stop and talk to someone randomly. But this gives you an excuse to get to know your neighbors. I hope the movement spreads. It creates a sense of community that’s just contagious.”
Curtis saw how the movement has spread in extraordinary ways. She received a book in the mail from a woman in Anchorage, Alaska and began a correspondence with her.
The woman, Phyllis Searles, explained that she is originally from metro Atlanta (Canton) and that there are no LFLs near her home in Alaska. She wanted to get involved and send a book to someone in Atlanta and chose Curtis after seeing her library on the LFL website.
The concept of a free library on the honor system is so out of the ordinary that stewards such as Curtis and Laufer witnessed how people had to get used to the idea.
“People are afraid of it at first,” Curtis said. “Then they finally stop and take a look. I’m going to take a day and sit out and talk to people.”
Laufer built his low enough that people who drive by in a car can easily access it through a car window.
“Some people drive by and get at it from the car window and others will walk up to it,” Laufer said. “It’s interesting, some people try it once and others come back and bring a half dozen books back. I see people and get recognized; they say, ‘oh, you’re the one with the little free library.’”