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'Take a book, return a book' at Little Free Library on Highlane Street in Hagerstown

July 20, 2013|By KAREN MAWDSLEY | kmawdsley@schurz.com
  • Ginger Gates, left, was the project coordinator for the Hebron Mennonite Church's Little Free Library and Betty Willson, the church's Director of Community Life, will oversee the upkeep of the library.
By Joe Crocetta / Staff Photographer

Washington County’s newest public library can’t be more than 4 square feet — but that’s precisely the idea.

It looks almost like an oversized birdhouse atop a wooden post, tucked away behind Hebron Mennonite Church on Highlane Street in Hagerstown.

Although the handcrafted library is small, it does not stand alone — it’s part of a global initiative known as the Little Free Library, which began in Hudson, Wis., in 2009.

Thanks to the efforts of Hebron Mennonite Church members Ginger Gates, project coordinator, and Betty Willson, director of community life for the church, the library was erected in April, after congregation member Mike Martin finished constructing it from recycled materials, including a roof made of flattened aluminum soda cans.

Recycling, that cyclical motion, is the heart of the Little Free Library concept. “Take a book. Return a book,” that’s the motto.

“These books will probably eventually disappear and get replaced by others,” said 36-year-old Gates, an educator for Washington County Public Schools, as she pointed to the 30 or so books nestled in the box-on-stilts.

In the four years since its inception by co-founders Todd Bol and Rick Brooks, the Little Free Library project has come to boast more than 5,000 libraries worldwide, including locations in each of the 50 states.

They have more than doubled their goal of 2,510 little libraries — just enough to surpass the 2,509 funded by industrial tycoon and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.

Gates said she heard of the libraries about a year ago on the news and mulled it over before suggesting that her church, where she has been a member for about a dozen years, pursue the project.

Anyone can bring a book or take a book, or both, said Willson, who is in her mid-60s and has been a member of the congregation for about six years.

“I just thought it was neat,” Gates said of the international initiative to promote literacy, community building and book sharing. “There’s enough people that live in this community, so I thought people would use it.”

Church Pastor Marilyn Henderson said she is “really pleased” with the project.

“Anything that promotes people connecting with each other in a healthful and wholesome way is good. And I think that’s what this is doing,” Henderson said. “It seems that it’s not just church folks that are using the library.”

An elementary-aged girl approached, reaching up to open the door of the box and carefully depositing a book, “Cats and Kittens,” she said she had borrowed with her younger brother.

The effort was at no cost to the church, other than “a couple dollars to register it,” Gates said.

Interested persons can build their own library box or buy one from the Little Free Library Web page. If they register, they receive a “Steward’s Kit,” and official sign and registration number.

The church’s Little Free Library, charter No. 6571, stands beside a wooden bench, a prime reading location, with the church’s nearby wooded trail, playground and community gardens.

“They’re not just children’s books; they’re not just adult books. It’s really for the community,” Gates said.

“We are part of this neighborhood, and we want to encourage neighborliness,” Henderson said. “And that’s what seems to be happening.”

It’s an expansion of Washington County’s renowned library system, the home of America’s first bookmobile, as well as the second oldest countywide library system in the United States, according to the Washington County Free Library website.

Gates said she’d like to see the program catch on in the area.

“It would be fun if other people in the community could put up one of their own,” she said.

Hebron Mennonite Church is hosting a dedication of its new library and playset Saturday at 11 a.m. All are welcome.

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