Neighborhood book exchange movement finds a home in Charlottesville

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Sue DiMagno installed Charlottesville’s latest Little Free Library, one of thousands of neighborhood book-sharing centers across the country. Photo: Elli Williams Sue DiMagno installed Charlottesville’s latest Little Free Library, one of thousands of neighborhood book-sharing centers across the country. Photo: Elli Williams

In front of Sue DiMagno’s home on Essex Street stands a wooden structure that looks a little like an oversized mailbox: two feet wide, glass-fronted, filled with books. Inside is an array of titles: Heaven’s Keep; Tripwire; Five Sisters. A small, white plaque on top of the box reads: “Little Free Library. Take a book. Return a book.”

Greenbrier is the latest local neighborhood to join the growing Little Free Library movement, a grassroots library system wherein neighbors swap literary selections by freely taking or donating books from mini-libraries. The library offers books of all genres for readers of all ages; even DiMagno’s 5-year-old son is getting in on the action.

“He goes down every day to check if there are any new books that he can read,” DiMagno said.

Aside from her son, she said, four or five people visit the library every day. She’s met several neighbors for the first time as they stopped by to pick up a paperback.

Todd Bol, who built the first mini-library four years ago in front of his home in Hudson, Wisconsin, described Little Free Libraries as a sort of community watering hole, a way for neighbors to interact and get to know each other by discussing novels and making recommendations.

“Libraries engage communities around books,” Bol said. “They get people to spend time together and talk. They’re a celebration of neighborhoods and communities.”

Bol’s neighbors were so excited, he said, they talked about the library like it was a new puppy.

“It delighted men, women, and kids of all ages,” he said. “People with Little Free Libraries tell us that they’ve met more people in 10 days than they have in 30 years. It seems to open and brighten up neighborhoods.”

Bol’s big, “little” idea is taking off on a global scale. Last year, he said, the number of Little Free Libraries grew from about 100 to over 4,000 in the United States. He said there are now 8,000 mini-libraries worldwide, on every continent. His organization’s website maintains a Google map that charts every one—and instructions on how to build, purchase, and stock your own neighborhood book-sharing site.

DiMagno set up hers in early June after asking neighbor Tom Givens, the woodwork artist who created the Whale’s Tail by the Route 250 bypass, to build the structure that now serves as the third Little Free Library in Charlottesville. The others are located on Palatine Avenue in Belmont and on Blueberry Road in Cedar Hills.

For those interested in following in DiMagno’s footsteps, Bol said the process is simple.

“Just put it up. Buy it or build it out of something, sponsor it, register it with us, and put it on our world map. Put it in your front yard and load it up with books,” he said. “It’s as easy as can be. Anybody can do it.”

DiMagno thinks Charlottesville is an ideal location for mini-libraries because it’s a “community-oriented city.”

“But any place is a good place,” she added.—Ryan McCrimmon

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