Little community exchange libraries have become a global phenomenon the past decade. With more than 90,000 of them in 90 countries, you’ve probably seen one in your travels. They look a bit like large bird houses with clear front doors and books visible within. (Not to be confused with the smaller boxes with fliers in front of houses for sale.)
People can browse the books and take one, to read and return or keep. They can also give a book they think might interest others, simply placing it in the box mounted on a post.
Started in Wisconsin in 2009, the little exchange libraries spread rapidly. They provided a free service to book lovers and helped connect community members.
Unsurprisingly in the modern age, they also occasionally were attacked. Foes in Los Angeles and Shreveport, Louisiana, complained to city officials, who told the owners of the little libraries that they violated city codes and had to be removed or relocated. In 2014, officials in Leawood City, Kansas, ordered a 9-year-old who had built one in his front yard for Mother’s Day to tear it down after two residents complained. After widespread public criticism and nationwide bad publicity, city officials reversed course and welcomed the libraries.
An early South Jersey little library was placed outside the Martin Luther King Community Center in Whitesboro. In 2013, a young woman put one in the front yard of her parents’ home on Berkshire Avenue in Linwood.
Now an Eagle scout and his fellow Boy Scout Troop 72 members have built and placed two little libraries at what is probably the ideal location for such community book sharing — on the bike path in Northfield. Blaine Geubner, a senior at Mainland Regional High School, said he got the idea from the popularity of one his aunt put up in her town.
In the short time Geubner’s little libraries have been in service this fall, we’ve frequently seen people using them, not surprising given the foot and bicycle traffic on the recreational path running from Somers Point through Pleasantville. Credit Northfield officials for being the first to allow them on the path.
Geubner and his helpers made and placed generic little libraries. That better fulfills the goals of an Eagle scout project and must have saved a little money as well.
A few years after the original Little Free Library in Wisconsin took off, its creators turned it into a nonprofit organization that now has a budget of more than $1 million a year and 15 employees. To legally use the Little Free Library brand name, people must buy from the nonprofit the book box or a kit to make one, as well as a charter sign and official charter number.
That’s fine and surely the easiest path to placing and operating a little community library. Don’t forget to check with municipal officials to make sure it’s OK.
We like the look of the scout-made libraries. Perhaps the members of Troop 72 will take care of them if Geubner’s life leads him out of the area for a while.
This bike path and others could use more such little libraries. The next job for municipalities is deciding how many to allow and the process for their approval.