Located at the corner of Lake Raponda Road and Stearns Avenue, the stout box is the latest in a grassroots movement that combines community, literacy, and recycling. It’s what’s known as a “Little Free Library,” a tiny kiosk where community members can share books.
Alan Baker, creator of Wilmington’s first Little Free Library, says he learned about the micro libraries when he stumbled across a news article. “I thought that was just the sort of thing we need,” Baker says. “It really resonated.”
He started planning his library the next day – figuring he could whip up an appropriate box in no time. “There are a number of designs, but the original one was designed to look like a little schoolhouse. I thought a Vermont covered bridge would be just the thing.”
Baker used scrap material he had on hand, and even sourced an old mirror from Twice Blessed for the box. Baker jokes that the library has a “periodicals room” in the form of a little shelf above the books. But in the end, he spent nearly 40 hours over two weeks building the box. “You can buy them for $200 up to $1,000, so I thought I’d make my own. After putting 40 hours into it, I thought maybe those prices weren’t so crazy.”
After finishing the little covered bridge and installing it at the end of Stearns Avenue, Baker and his wife seeded it with 14 books, about half the library’s capacity. “We picked out books we liked, and I got a couple of books from Twice Blessed. I got three books from people in an exercise class. Another one came from Brandon (Brassor) at the transfer station. I didn’t have any children’s books, so a neighbor with grandchildren gave me some.”
Baker says he didn’t know what to expect when he put the library on the roadside. “It seemed like a good idea, and if it was as good as I thought, it should take off.”
So far, he says, the reaction has been universally positive. Complete strangers have stopped to tell him what a great idea the library is. In a little notebook he keeps in the box, a retired librarian wrote to tell him the library is a great idea, and that she stops to check it every day. Baker has also received positive comments through a library website he created at http://library.alanbaker.net/.
Baker says the library has no rules. Readers can take books to return, trade or keep. “You can’t steal a free book,” quips Baker. “There’s no pressure to return a book, you don’t have to have a card, and you don’t have to buy anything.”
But Baker says he does have some requests. He asks people not to donate books they would throw away. “I want people to donate books they thought were so good they want to share them with other people,” he says.
He also asks people to include book reviews, just a brief comment about what they liked about a book, or even online reviews printed and tucked into the book. “Those with reviews seem to go faster than those without,” he notes.
Despite pronouncements on the demise of print, old-fashioned paper and ink seem to be alive and well in Wilmington. Baker keeps track of the activity at the library on his website, and patrons can check the website to see what may be available. In the two weeks that Baker’s tiny library has been “open,” it has seen a flurry of activity. A total of 48 books have been contributed, and 41 books have been taken out, some more than once. “The main feedback has been not so much in words, but in the number of books that have come in and gone out in the two weeks,” he says. “I didn’t have any preconceived notions, but I’ve been pleased with the response.”
Why has Baker’s Little Free Library caught on so quickly, and been so popular? “This is sort of about community – micro community,” Baker says. “It’s more personal, and less institutional.”
The Little Free Library movement began in Wisconsin in 2009. Baker’s library is registered as number 2,527 of Little Free libraries across the country – more libraries than Andrew Carnegie built, according to the Little Free Library website. There are five in Vermont, and Baker’s is the first in Windham County. To learn more about Little Free Libraries visit http://www.littlefreelibrary.org.