East Texas has 3 free neighborhood libraries
The community library in the front yard of Randy Mallory and Sallie Evans' home almost looks like a birdhouse, but inside are books free for the taking or for trade.
The cute little structure, modeled after the married couple's home at 518 W. First St. in Tyler, is part of the little freelibrary.org movement, which according to its website, started in 2009 in Wisconsin with the mission of putting libraries in rural communities.
The idea, according to the website, is for community members to build small, waterproof boxes and fill them with books from their bookshelves at home. Neighbors can take a book or leave a book, and it is all free. There are more than 2,500 free libraries in the country, but Randy and Sallie's is one of only three in East Texas.
The couple said they got the idea while visiting their daughter Elissa in Saint Paul, Minn., where she attends college. "We (were) walking around the neighborhood and she was showing us all the little free libraries," Ms. Evans said. "There were probably five or six on that walk that we took -- in a two or three block area."
Randy even checked one out and brought it home to Texas. The book, "Round Ireland with a Fridge" by Tony Hawks, chronicles his bet with a friend to hitchhike around the country with the large appliance.
"It's stuff you wouldn't necessarily see because it reflects the taste of the people who are doing it ..." Randy said. "I thought that you're not going to find that (kind of book) in Tyler."
The couple said on their drive home, they detoured to look at some of the creative designs of library owners, and thought about how nice it would be to have one in Tyler, before they decided they would take on the project themselves.
They said the website encourages using recycled materials for construction, and the house is made out of some old redwood lumber they have been holding onto since a home renovation 20 years ago. The library, located near the sidewalk in their neighborhood, has two shelves, one for adults and one for children.
"It's been funny," Randy said. "The whole idea is its just free -- there's nothing monetary about it. When we first started talking about it some people would say, 'what if someone steals your books?' Well you can't steal them, they're free."
Readers also are encouraged to write a message inside the book about what they liked about it and pass it along to another library or friend. The Tony Hawks book Randy picked up in Minnesota already has been circulated.
Sallie and Randy said their biggest contributor and user is 9-year-old Justin Mendoza, who lives across the street.
"He went through his little library at home and found some (books) that he was done with and brought those over," Randy said. "He brought them and borrowed some. It's been really neat. He got so excited about it when we first put it up."
The structure inspired Jennifer Williams, a friend of the Mendoza family, to bring the movement to her home at 813 Keble Lane in Whitehouse.
Mrs. Williams, 27, said she heard about the concept while in college at The University of Texas at Tyler.
"I personally love to read a lot, and it's kind of one of those escape kind of things," she said. "I've always lived in apartments though, so I've never had a place to put one."
She said she's been married to her husband and living in Whitehouse for two years, and the idea had slipped her mind until she visited her friend's home.
"When we got married, my whole thing was I wanted a library ..." she said. "We have converted one of the rooms. All but one of the walls has (bookshelves)."
Her husband took on the project of building the little red and black library, while Jennifer added tiling to the sides and filled it with books from her collection. She said her book club also has expressed interest in contributing material.
The Williams live in a neighborhood across the street from Cain Elementary, and Jennifer said there are many families with children in the neighborhood. She said since they do not have any children yet, she hopes her neighbors will help contribute books for children.
"We do have a library here in Whitehouse, but some kids they are only allowed to ride around in a circle (of the neighborhood), so this is an easy way for them to come and just stop by and get something (to read)," Mrs. Williams said.
Mrs. Williams said her library has only been up a short time, and after the holidays she plans on distributing pamphlets explaining the meaning of the box next to her mailbox.
"It's supposed to be more of a community thing once people start learning about it," she said. "I haven't handed out fliers yet so no one really knows about it yet. They are probably like, 'what is that strange little building,' but they have been really nice and not nosey."
There is also a Little Free Library in Lufkin.