Colbert United Methodist Church members will celebrate a new avenue of service to their community this Sunday — the introduction of their own “Free Little Library” — designed to provide books to anyone who wants to stop by the front of the church to pick up a book to read.
“It’s part of the concept of ‘take a book, leave a book,’” church librarian Janice McMillan-Floyd said.
The “Free Little Library” concept has been around since 2009, when a Wisconsin man built a small model of a one-room schoolhouse as a tribute to his mother, a former schoolteacher who loved reading. He filled it with books and put it on a post in his front yard. His neighbors and friends loved it, so he built some more and gave them away. Each one had a sign that said “free books.”
Each “library” was built with recycled materials and each was a unique design, but all shared the same purpose — to exchange books and promote reading, while bringing the community together for something positive.
Since that time, “Free Little Libraries” have been cropping up all over the country and beyond. In 2012, the movement became a non-profit organization. By January 2014, according to the library’s website (www.freelittlelibrary.org) the total number of registered libraries in the world is conservatively estimated between 10- 12 thousand, with more being built each week.
The church became interested in the project after their own church library, developed just last year, became such a hit.
“We took a vacant room and made it into a library for church members to check out books,” McMillan-Floyd said. “Our congregation was so generous with their donations that soon the room was overflowing with books.”
So church members began to look around for a way to share their bounty of reading materials with others in the community.
“We started by delivering books to shut-ins and set up a call number where people could request more books to be delivered, but we still felt we could do more,” she said.
So, they began taking books for various age groups to local business waiting areas, such as doctor’s offices.
The concept of reaching out to the community with books really energized those on the library committee, McMillan-Floyd said, and that’s when they discovered the “Free Little Library” movement.
First, they knew they needed someone who could construct a small box-like structure to place in front of the church. It didn’t take long for them to turn to Willie Howell.
“People in the church knew Willie makes beautiful stuff,” his wife, Pat Howell, said. “So they started calling.”
Mrs. Howell said her husband has made many beautiful things out of wood, including turning a daughter’s baby crib into a beautiful deacon’s bench.
At first, Howell said no.
“I felt like I couldn’t do it justice,” he said.
He then reconsidered and asked about blueprints.
“That’s when we discovered there were none,” McMillan-Floyd said. “So we downloaded pictures and showed those to him.”
He began “tinkering” around with it and about four days later a little wooden box turned into a beautiful model of the church.
From there, they turned to Allison Thompson, a member of the church’s Tuesday craft group, who agreed to paint the box.
She painted the little library’s exterior to look like the brick work on the church and even painted the steeple with a cross at the top.
The back interior wall of the library is painted to look like bookshelves filled with books. She even came up with the idea to add a strip of carpet to the bottom of the box to keep the books upright.
“It’s so exciting to see how this has evolved,” McMillan-Floyd said.
The Free Little Library has been in place in front of the church for a couple of weeks now and the church is anxious to see if it catches on.
“It’s not just for church members, it’s for anyone who’d like to take a look in there and see if there’s something they’d enjoy reading,” McMillan-Floyd said. Currently, there is a selection of books for all ages. She said there are lots of walkers in the area, and they’re hoping some of them will stop by and pick out a book to carry home.
“Hopefully this will catch on and they’ll be everywhere around the county,” she said, noting that several have cropped up in the Athens area.
“It’s another way to bless the neighborhood,” Pastor Hugh Hendrickson said. “Looking at it, that cross at the top just reaches out to you.”
Hendrickson said he plans to move the church’s prayer box, also located in front of the church, closer to the little library. He encourages anyone with a need in their life to write it on a piece of paper and leave it in the box, and he said it doesn’t matter whether they go to church at Colbert UMC or not, and they don’t have to leave a name.
“That box gets checked regularly and we pray for those who leave notes there,” he said.
The dedication ceremony and ribbon-cutting for the church’s Free Little Library will be this Sunday, May 4, at 12:15 p.m. Rev. Hendrickson and others will speak and refreshments will be served. Church leaders say all members of the community are invited.