One of the latter — a wee kiosk of books and stripey art — popped up in recent days in the Woodsdale neighborhood of Wheeling. The work of middle schooler Jayma Hunt and a handful of family members, this library offers titles ranging from a Jodi Picoult novel to a biography of John Glenn.
And, you never know what else.
That’s kind of the point, Hunt said. Not only is the little library — a literacy-building trend started by a Wisconsin woodworker in 2009 — easy for neighbors to access, it’s easy to change. Hunt, or any reader who is interested, can add a book, take a book or simply browse.
“There were people here just last night,” enthused Lara Graves, owner of the Whisk bakery outside of which the library is located. “I happened to be watching, and someone walking his dog stopped and looked at the books.”
A similar evening browse is how it all started, Hunt said.
“When we were camping, I saw one (a little library),” she said. “I didn’t really have anything to do — so I got one of the books, and I read it that night.”
Already an avid mystery reader, she was hooked. After talking about the idea for some time among family, her grandfather Greg Sgroi opted to join in the project.
“He built it for a present last year,” Hunt said. “Then, I just had to paint it.”
And, paint it, she did. There are colorful stripes and silhouetted critters peeking out here and there. Inside, two crimson-edged shelves are in constant rotation.
On a recent day, Hunt and her mother, Jodi Hunt, were contemplating what Christmas titles to add and redecorating the halved whisky barrel that anchors the library in a mix of concrete and soil. Hunt said they try to have about half adult titles and half for children.
Graves sees that plan working given the library’s location near the intersection of National Road and Edgington Lane. The area is constantly crisscrossed by not only visitors to a small strip of shops but by joggers, dog walkers and children coming home from school or going to a nearby playground.
“This is awesome,” she said of the easy access to a good read, especially for youth. “My son is an avid reader. I think it’s something more kids are interested in. … It makes it accessible for kids right here in the neighborhood — when you can’t get to the library.
It doesn’t hurt that Hunt’s cheery art complements the pastries inside the bakery, she added. “It could not be constructed any cuter.”
The lure of the pastries is part of why Hunt chose to locate the library outside Whisk. She thought first about putting it outside of Woodsdale Elementary School or by the former Edgwood Lutheran Church, but picked Whisk because of the natural foot-traffic flow.
“People are going to walk in and have a hot chocolate or a cupcake, and they can get a book,” Hunt said.
She may be onto something, Jodi Hunt added with a laugh. The family also knows a restaurant owner in Bridgeport, West Virginia. Upon hearing about the installation in Wheeling, that entrepreneur asked if Hunt would consider opening a branch library there.
More locations are certainly not out of the question.
Since a Wisconsin woodworker installed the first known Little Free Library in that state to encourage literacy, more than 90,000 of the kiosks have opened in public sites or in neighborhood front yards, according to the non-profit’s littlefreelibrary.org website.
And, that’s just the registered ones. Hunt’s library, like many, is not registered, as that involves a fee.
Other area residents interested in sharing books elsewhere in Wheeling can get design plans or even pre-built libraries through the organization, however.
• A long-time journalist, Nora Edinger also blogs at noraedinger.com and Facebook and writes books. Her Christian chick lit and faith-related non-fiction are available on Amazon. She lives in Wheeling, where she is part of a three-generation, two-species household.