If you’ve been in the lobby of the Artisan Center lately, you may have noticed an old newspaper vending machine, painted blue and filled with books. Wheeling Heritage is one of the latest organizations to participate in the Ohio County Virtual Lions’ Little Free Library Program, an initiative that places these tiny “libraries” in the community. Part recycling, part literacy access, the program transforms newspaper vending machines into little hubs of learning.
Machines Return to the Streets
So how does a newspaper vending machine become a library? With the shift away from physical newspapers, there are fewer newspaper vending machines on the streets. The Intelligencer and Wheeling News Register have agreed to donate their out-of-commission newspaper vending machines to the Virtual Lions for this initiative. Then, the City of Wheeling’s Division of Operations paints them primer gray at their shop in Clator, and then Lions distribute them to people who have volunteered to paint them. After the paint dries, the library is put in place and filled with books. It is truly a community effort, and an excellent model of how private businesses, local governments and community organizations can work together to enrich the community.
The Lions have a map so you can find other little libraries around town. However, this map just lists the little free libraries that are a part of the Ohio County Virtual Lions initiative. There are other little libraries around Wheeling, like the one in front of Whisk Bakery, or the shelves of books on the alcove of the Paradox bookstore. Of course, the Ohio County Public Library is a “free” library too! Just don’t forget your library card.
As a part of my AmeriCorps service, I have to complete two community service projects. One should focus on historic preservation of some kind, while the other can just be something that positively impacts the community where I am serving. When the opportunity to take on the Little Library project came about, it was a chance to use my creativity to fulfill part of my service in a way that benefits our community.
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A casual conversation around the office about how nice free libraries were quickly turned productive when Mary Ann Rafa, a volunteer with Wheeling Heritage, told us about her involvement with the Ohio County Virtual Lions and their free library initiative. In less than a week we had a newspaper vending machine, primed and ready to be painted. I chose to paint the library blue, similar to the Wheeling Heritage logo. Over that, I painted different plants one might see around town: longleaf plantain (Plantago lanceolata), cleavers (Gallium aparine), dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum), among others. After I was satisfied with my design, I screwed the plexiglass window back into the door and moved the newly transformed little library downstairs near the entrance of the Artisan Center. Now all that’s left is for you to come and check it out!
Kate Wietor and Mary Ann Rafa reveal the Wheeling Artisan Center's completed Little Library.
Unused newspaper vending machines are primed by the city's Department of Operations and delivered to volunteers who add a creative touch.
Wheeling Heritage's Little Library is located just inside the front doors of the Wheeling Artisan Center, located at 1400 Main Street.
The Little Library at the Wheeling Artisan Center features wild plants that you can find in Wheeling.
Tips for Interacting with a Little Library
If you’re new to Little Libraries, here are some tips for being a good patron.
Only donate what you’d like to receive… Does someone really need your old microwave cookbooks?
Think about your audience – who’s likely to visit this library? Does the location of the library inform what books might be best for visitors?
Try to tidy up the shelves if books are in disarray. It might be helpful to separate youth and adult books so that it’s easier for children to identify what might be for them.
Make sure the door is closed! No one likes soggy books.
• Kate Wietor is currently studying Architectural History and Historic Preservation at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia. She spent one glorious year in Wheeling serving as the 2021-22 AmeriCorps member at Wheeling Heritage. Since moving back to Virginia, she’s still looking for an antique store that rivals Sibs.