Since Dr. Charla Evans took a small replica of her country home in 2012 and filled it with books for the patients in her West Mobile office to share, Little Free Libraries have begun to sprout all over Mobile.
Evans’ 2-foot-by-3-foot library made of reclaimed wood sits inside the lobby of the Family Medical Clinic at Cottage Hill and Schillinger.
She said she first saw the idea on “CBS Sunday Morning” and had a friend, Tony Smith, build it. The case holds about 30 to 40 books of various genres.
“I love books and encourage my patients, especially my pediatric patients to read,” she said. “I encourage my pediatric patients to read five books every summer.”
Although a lot of children use the library, there are many genres to choose from, Evans said. Many patients use the library and donate books to it as well.
“There are a lot of people still learning about it,” she said. “Once the patients find out about it, they are willing to donate.”
Free Little Library organization
Evans’ library is registered with the website, freelittlelibrary.org, which has a map of many of the little libraries that have popped up around the world. While Evans’ bookshare may have been the first in Mobile, the movement was started in 2009 in Wisconsin, according to the site. The popularity of the movement led to the founding of the nonprofit, tax exempt organization. Registering a library carries a one-time $34.99 fee and comes with a charter number and sign.
Todd Bol, of Hudson, Wis. built a replica schoolhouse and placed books in it for the community to share. Because of demand, he built several more, each with a sign that read: “Free Books,” according to the site.
Library on Houston Street
Another registered library in Midtown belongs to Nicole Larriviere and her husband at 15 Houston Street. Larriviere said she first saw an example of a take-a-book, leave-a-book library on Fairhope Avenue in Fairhope two years ago. She and her husband put theirs up in June.
“That’s what inspired us two years ago,” she said. “I knew I wanted to put one up.”
Larriviere said she wanted the library to mimic her Houston Street home and used windows from a historic home on the street to make up three sides of the structure that was built into an existing white fence.
“I wanted to mimic our house with white,” she said. “I wanted to give it a coastal vibe. The windows give it an open and airy feel.”
The white paint on the outside of the library matches the home and light blue paint on the ceiling of the three-level structure gives a nod to the light blue ceiling on the home’s wrap-around porch.
“We looked at Pinterest to see what we wanted to do,” she said.
Since they put the library up, it’s become a conversation piece among neighbors, Larriviere said.
“People have come and introduced themselves to us,” she said. “They’re so happy we have it. I really think it builds community and I love to do that. It’s not just you driving through Houston Street, it connects you to this community more and to each other.”
Like Evans’ library, the Houston Street Little Library has a mix of genres that is always changing, Larriviere said. In addition to best sellers and classics, the library may also carry nonfiction and children’s books. The small structure can hold around 70 to 75 books at any one time.
“It’s whatever comes in and out,” she said. “Some books come back, but I prefer they get passed on or replaced to keep the library fresh.”
Larriviere said she looks forward to working with different themes throughout the year, as the library becomes more established in the community.
Library on Montuak Avenue
Sharman Egan repurposed an old rabbit hutch to bring a library to the Old Dauphin Way neighborhood. She said the well-traveled street means her bookshare is popular with neighbors, including students from the nearby Alabama School for Math and Science, who walk by the library every weekday around 3:30 p.m.
“People are just intrigued by it,” Egan said. “They will stop by and admire it.”
Egan said she originally hesitated putting it up because of the historic nature of the neighborhood in which she lives.
“I assumed there would be a problem (with zoning) because the house is in a historic district,” she said. “As soon as I saw the mayor promote it on One Mobile, I knew there wouldn’t be a problem.”
Egan’s husband, Kevin, painted the library to match the house and the couple also put landscaping around the structure. The 3-foot-by-2-foot structure can hold up to 40 books and, like the others, has a variety of genres of patrons to choose from, including fiction, nonfiction, children’s book and travel.
“You name it, it’s whatever people bring,” she said. “If you have a book bring it, but if you want a book, take one.”
Egan plans to dedicate her library to the memory of Mobile native and writer Eugene Walter. She said she has fliers about him that she plans to add to the library.
“He was a cool guy,” Egan said. “I didn’t know him, but I’m fascinated.”
Customers of Callaghan’s in the Oakleigh Garden District have no doubt noticed a new structure across the street from the popular neighborhood pub. The bookshare was the brainchild of Cheryl Shifflet and her friend Shelia Colvin.
The structure went up in May, after Shifflet had started a book club of sorts at Callaghan’s.
“I’m always posting (on Facebook) about books I’m reading,” she said. “Friends would meet here to exchange books.”
Colvin told Shifflet about the little library movement and they had folks donate books for the cause. The case now holds close to 200 books and Shifflet said she has enough books left over to start a second location in the neighborhood.
“It has really been great for the community,” Shifflett said. “It has been nothing but positive for the community.”
Callaghan’s customers love using the bookshare that is filled with various genres of books, Shifflet said.
Mobile Public Library
The little libraries that have popped up throughout the community promote reading and therefore get the seal of approval from the city’s library system, said Amber Guy, Public Relations Officer for the Mobile Public Library.
“I think it’s great because it does really – say you were an avid reader in high school, or college and life has gotten in the way of your reading and you haven’t picked up a book in a couple of years,” she said. “You know, your next door neighbor has a little library and a book you like and you can come check out some more books at our library from that same author or genre, so I think overall they’re great. Anything that any of us can do to encourage our family and friends to read more and like books is a wonderful thing.”
The Internet and eBooks would seem like a far bigger threat to physical library visits, but Guy said libraries all over the country have had to evolve in order to deliver new possibilities to patron. For example, the 10 branches of the Mobile Public Library have seen the number of public access computers grow to 225, since they were first introduced in 1997, Guy said. There are still a number of patrons who use the free Internet access, which the library provides.
“We kind of forget that 30 percent of Americans don’t have Internet access at all,” she said. “Nowadays if you are looking for a job, you do all of your job applications online. So, you know, we have free public (computers) for people to use. They have Microsoft Office, so in addition to doing your Internet work, you can come to the library to do your resume and all of that stuff.”
The library offers computer classes, as well as resume and job search classes, Guy said.
The library offers eBooks for checkout and has for a couple of years, Guy said. The issue is the price and available of the eBooks, considering many of eBook publishers have been slow to sell to libraries, Guy said.
“Our eBook and audiobook material is our fastest growing circulation,” she said. “Is there still a great demand for print books in Mobile? Yeah there really is. There is a growing demand for digital content and we’re doing our best to provide as much as we can based on what the publishers want to sell us.”
Guy used a biography of Anne Boleyn as an example. She said for a normal customer the book would cost $20, but for the library it was $120.
In addition to eBooks, the library is set to debut expanded digital content that will allow patrons to check out movies, magazines and a wider array of audiobooks, through three different services, Guy said.
Through OneClick Digitial, patrons can search a database of audiobooks and check them out with their library card. Zinio, which is also launching this week, allows patrons to check out and read digital versions of print magazines, Guy said. The library is also set to introduce a streaming movie service called IndieFlix, she said.
“It’s a lot of arthouse films, film festival films, so we’re real, real excited about that,” Guy said. It’s actually a subscription service if you don’t have a local library doing it. I think it’s $5 a month if you’re joining it on your own, but people who have Mobile Public Library cards can use it for free.”