- Associated Press - Friday, May 20, 2016

LOGAN, Utah (AP) - The wooden post in the front yard of the Duncan family’s Boulevard home in Logan often gets mistaken for a mailbox. But take a closer look, and the neatly painted and designed box resembling a house is actually full of books.

Logan resident Jennifer Duncan, who is also associate dean at Utah State University’s Special Collections and Archives, maintains the library of books outside her home, filled with material for all ages - from kids fiction (“Infestation: Something Huge is on the March” by Timothy Bradley) to autobiography (“The Measure of a Man” by actor Sydney Poitier).

“It’s very little,” Duncan laughed about her library.

The size of Duncan’s library is not trivial, The Herald Journal reported (https://bit.ly/1X7GDTC). In fact, it represents something larger that is being called by some in Cache Valley a grassroots book movement.

That movement is Little Free Library, a Wisconsin-based nonprofit. It was founded by Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin, who built a model of a one-room schoolhouse in his front yard, filled it with books and got a great response from the community.

He started building more and then teamed up with Rick Brooks at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The two men would go on to build a nonprofit that would capture the attention - and imagination - of people to build their own little libraries. By January 2016, the total number of little libraries reached over 36,000 worldwide, according to the Little Free Library website.

The website’s “Frequently Asked Questions” page explains that a little library relies on the honor system. You can take a book and keep it, but you are encouraged to contribute to the little library in order to keep it stocked with quality reading material for rest of the neighborhood.

Duncan noted how the Little Free Library is a much different concept from the university library.

“This is integrated into the community, and a public library obviously does that, but this is a tiny, little neighborhood branch,” Duncan said. “It’s just great to have this little thing that constantly reminds people ‘reading is great, books are good, take one.’ We want you to enjoy them.”

It is not clear how many little libraries are in Cache Valley, from a search on the website, but anecdotally, people say adding little libraries in Cache Valley is a trend.

“It’s people-to-people,” said Frances Titchener, of Logan, who was introduced to little libraries by Duncan. “The idea is that the books are in continuous circulation; someone takes a book from the library, and they put it back in a different one or contribute a book.”

Titchener added, “When I was a child, nobody had to worry about you. The world used to be a lot simpler, and this feels like those days. That’s what I like (about little libraries).”

Titchener said the little libraries concept is great because there’s nothing between the person and the book, so to speak. No rules, no fees, no registration, as is the case with many public libraries.

“People can interact with books without interference,” Titchener said. “I want people to experience reading books as a continuous, fluid activity, not spotted occasions. Books and reading should be a part of our life.”

But little libraries should not replace brick and mortar libraries, Titchener added.

“I’m a huge fan of libraries,” Titchener said. “Little libraries are not ‘instead of’ a library. It’s like Kindle; it’s not ‘instead of’ books; it’s just a different way of looking at a book.”

One of Cache Valley’s little libraries is across the street from Hillcrest Elementary, maintained by Kate and Michael Twohig, who have kids who go to Hillcrest. They make sure the library is well stocked.

“I think we find it really fun,” Michael, who is originally from Wisconsin and is familiar with the little library concept. “It’s fun to watch people to take books, be happy, smile and laugh. It’s fun to see what disappears and what comes back. It’s all positive.”

Little libraries is not just a box of books, Duncan, Twohig and Tichener noted. Some people have taken the concept and transformed their little libraries into something beautiful to look at.

The Duncan family moved from Center Street to Boulevard and it was hard to part ways with their former home. So when Duncan decided to have a little library in her front yard, her father-in-law made it look like a house, borrowing from elements of the old home. The blue shingles are the exact same and the yellow trim is from the Center Street home; the red is the same color as the steps on their Boulevard home.

But at the end of the day, it’s not about the design of the libraries; it’s that people are actually using them, Duncan said.

“We love it and we love coming out and seeing what’s new,” Duncan said. “It makes me happy to know I’m doing something in the community people appreciate - especially kids.”

For more information about Little Free Libraries, and to find a little library near you, visit littlefreelibrary.org.

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Information from: The Herald Journal, https://www.hjnews.com


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