- Associated Press - Saturday, August 19, 2017

NEWNAN, Ga. (AP) - Across Coweta County, Little Free Libraries offer a good read to anyone passing by - often in unexpected spots.

Ali Jones of Newnan said she began building her own free book exchange box after speaking with her aunt who helped establish several of the tiny libraries.

“My aunt has installed several in College Park where she lives, and I’ve always loved them,” Jones said. “Then it just hit me, ‘Why don’t I get one of my own?’”

Jones, like many book exchange stewards across the globe, simply fell in love with the idea of contributing to the community, and found this project to be an easy way to give back. Little Free Libraries can be ordered fully assembled from the nonprofit organization, or can be built using any type of materials, and in any size.

“Some people don’t want want to go into the library if they are in a hurry or something,” Jones said. “Besides, I just thought it would be fun.”

She’s not alone. This year’s Leadership Coweta class made Little Free Libraries their class project. The group, sponsored by the Newnan-Coweta Chamber of Commerce, is assigned each year to conceive a project and then execute it as a leadership-training exercise.

The class recruited local businesses to sponsor the construction and equipping of libraries around the county. And as word spread, it helped spur other groups to independently plan more libraries, such as Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.

Originally, the Little Free Library movement, according to the nonprofit organization’s website, www.littlefreelibrary.org, began in 2009 with a man in Wisconsin who built a model of a one-room schoolhouse in honor of his mother who was a teacher and loved to read.

Todd Bol, of Hudson, Wis., filled his Esther Bol Memorial Library with books and placed the miniature schoolhouse with its tiny bell on a post in his front yard. Neighbors and friends took notice of the memorial project, leading Bol to build more small boxes of books and pass them along to several other homeowners in the area.

Later, Bol met Rick Brooks, an instructor at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, when Brooks led a workshop on green practices for small businesses. The two began discussing social enterprise, including Bol’s idea of giving back to the community through the small book-exchange boxes.

In an interview with Brooks published online by Upperhouse.org, an organization that serves the University of Wisconsin and the surrounding community, the Little Free Library partner recalled meeting Bol.

“One of the attendees had been unemployed for about a year and had been looking for something meaningful to do,” Brooks said of Bol in the interview. “We learned right away that the value of Little Free Library wasn’t just the books, it was the friendship and it was the excuse to meet and discuss things in a relatively neutral territory.”

According to littlefreelibrary.org, the two men were inspired by the well-known philanthropist Andrew Carnegie who, around 1881, began to promote the idea of establishing free, public libraries to make self-education available to all. Through the Carnegie Corporation, the altruist spent more than $56 million dollars to build 2,059 libraries, according to Columbia University Library Philanthropy of Andrew Carnegie.

One of Carnegie’s earliest libraries was the one in Newnan on the corner of Brown Street and LaGrange Street.

Carnegie’s original goal was to build 2,508 public libraries. Similarly, Bol and Brooks aimed to create the same number of Little Free Libraries by the end of 2013. The two exceeded the goal nearly two years early, in August 2012, and made Little Free Libraries a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

Brooks retired from the Little Free Library organization in 2014. The organization, whose mission describes the nonprofit as one that “inspires a love of reading, builds community, and sparks creativity by fostering neighborhood book exchanges around the world,” has continued to grow. Today, Little Free Libraries reports 50,000 registered book exchanges across the U.S. and in more than 70 countries.

A world map, marked with thousands of points indicating registered Little Free Libraries across the globe, can be found online at www.littlefreelibrary.org .

Though few Coweta-based book exchanges are listed on the map, there are several Little Free Libraries in and around the county. Registered Little Free Libraries are given an official charter sign engraved with a unique charter number. Registration includes purchasing a charter sign. The cost of the sign, which starts at $39, will go toward the building and establishment of more book exchanges and books.

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