Dotted throughout Matthews, you can find about ½ dozen small house-style boxes on stilts proudly displaying free books for the taking. Called “Little Free Library” boxes or little book boxes, owners report many reasons for building and displaying their boxes - some love books and reading, others find commonality with other readers and still others feel they are contributing to a greater sense of community in and around their neighborhood.
Among the Matthews boxes we found include:
1718 Privette Road
2140 Greenbrook Pkwy
125 Edgeland (empty)
1042 Kensrowe Lane
232 North Trade Street
For the Chopas Family (Privette Road), their book box was a way to share with the neighbors, promote literacy and give back to the cul de sac which had embraced them when they first arrived in Matthews three years ago. “This was a ‘Hallmark’ neighborhood,” said Debbie Chopas. “They embraced us when our baby was born…..this was (intended) to keep the thread of meeting moving forward.”
Passionate about literacy, Debbie added that they also wanted to compliment the local library by encouraging reading throughout the summer. “Reading is the most valuable tool we can foster with this generation,” she said. “It’s a lost art. I wanted to help instill it in (children).”
To sweeten the goodies inside and continue paying it forward, the Chopas have combined purposes, by also calling it a “Blessing Box” – and have chosen to add magazines, puzzles and other surprises for the takers.
The Little Free Library box was a 2016 Christmas present for Julie Tippett (Lightwood Road). “I wanted it because I love my neighborhood,” she said noting that in neighborhoods like hers, with large lots and space between houses, she “wanted to do something so that we would have some form of community.”
“I love to read and loved reading out loud to my children (as they grew up),” said Julie. “(So) I love the fact that kids come by and get books….If I can put a book in the hands of a mom to read to her children,” Julie said, she will feel like the box and her endeavor has “served a purpose.”
And, what will she do when she moves away? “When I buy my next house at the beach, I will be sure to put a box up there, too!”
To Tina Marlowe (Kensrowe Lane), her Little Free Library box of four years has been a “labor of love.” “Literacy is our passion,” said Tina, “so sharing the joy of reading is so much fun!”A former volunteer tutor for elementary age children, her box combines purpose and intent. Tina purchases adult/children/teen books from Goodwill, The Book Rack, and book consignment shops around the area. “Children’s books are my priority (and) the reason for our Little Free Library journey,” said Tina. “This has truly been a labor of love.”
The most public of Matthews’ book boxes is firmly visible and ensconced in front of Matthews Heritage Museum (232 N. Trade Street) – a joint effort between townspeople and the museum, it was built to “serve Matthews citizens in different ways when (the museum) wasn’t open to the public,” said museum Director Barbara Taylor. Originally intended to offer historical fiction/nonfiction, the box is well stocked with books of all types, now. “(The box has allowed us to) have (another) successful interaction with the public,” she said.
The first Little Free Library was built in 2009 by Todd Bol of Hudson, WI. He mounted a wooden container designed to look like a one-room schoolhouse (hence, the design) and filled it with books as a tribute to his mother, who was a book lover and school teacher. In 2012, the Little Free Library became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. The original goal was to create 2,150 Little Libraries, a number which would surpass the number of libraries founded (and funded) by Scottish businessman and philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie. As of November 2016, there were 50,000 registered Little Free Libraries worldwide, with a significant amount located in the United States.
Like other public bookcases, anyone passing by a box can take a book to read or leave one for someone else to find. The organization relies on volunteers to construct, install, and maintain book exchange boxes. For a book exchange box to be registered and legally use the Little Free Library brand name, volunteers must purchase a Library box kit or a charter sign which reads, “Little Free Library” and displays an official charter number.
At present, there are several hundred Little Free Libraries in North Carolina; six are shown as registered in Matthews. There are countless additional boxes which have not been registered.
Little Free Library Stats
3 out of 4 people report they’ve read a book they normally would not have read because of a Little Free Library
73% of people say they’ve met new neighbors because of a Little Free Library
92% of people say their neighborhood feels like a friendlier place because of a Little Free Library