AD Main Menu

Miniature libraries pop up in Anchorage yards

Tegan Hanlon

Take a book and leave a book.

Or just grab a book. Maybe drop off a few later?

The rules are loose at the homegrown Little Free Libraries. Maybe you've seen them. There are at least eight boxes scattered throughout Anchorage's front lawns. There are no fines, fees or membership cards. Neighbors share with neighbors. If you need something to read you can just walk down the street, into the community and away from the Internet.

The idea started in Wisconsin in 2009. A man named Todd Bol constructed a miniature schoolhouse and stuffed it with books as a tribute to his mother, a former teacher and avid reader. He posted the box outside with a sign that read, "FREE BOOKS." It evolved into a nonprofit that triggered a movement worldwide.

By January 2014, that one Little Free Library in Wisconsin grew to about 15,000 in 56 countries from Columbia to Ghana to Japan, according to the nonprofit's most recent figures.

Near Westchester Lagoon, two Little Free Libraries have sprouted.

David Kanaris, 33, and Kait Reiley, 29, own one. The couple settled into their home near West 14th Avenue and P Street in 2012. Kanaris had moved from Wales. While he waited for his green card, he said he needed hobbies. His wife had heard about Little Free Libraries from a friend.

"It's the first thing I've ever built," Kanaris said about the tiny library about the size of a dollhouse with tan siding and turquoise trim.

He keeps an Excel spreadsheet of the books that shuffle in and out of the Little Free Library, just for fun. Some books get returned, some don't. For a reason he can't figure out, he said, he's tracked "tons of copies of 'The Bridges of Madison County,' " a 1992 novel by Robert James Waller.

Kanaris and Reiley, a forensic scientist and substitute teacher, pick up some books from thrift stores and used book shops, but many books filter in from neighbors. People have knocked on their door thanking them for the Little Free Library. Last week, someone left a note asking for tips to start his own.

A few blocks away, on O Street, stands the box of Jane Sauer, a 53-year-old attorney. She can see the purple-and-orange Little Free Library from a large window above her kitchen sink. Her 22-year-old son, Nick Treinen, built it for her for Mother's Day last year.

"The kids just run up and open it," he said. He built it just for their height.

Sauer fills it with children's books that her three grown sons once paged through, mixed with readings for other ages as well.

"We're trying to have books for little kids and books for medium kids and books for adults," she said. "We think it's important for everyone to get a sense of community."

In the fall, Sauer places a pumpkin on top of the Little Free Library. Over the winter months, she interweaves Christmas lights in its wooden frame. When it's warm enough, she plants flowers in the raised bed her son built on the library's top.

"Ours is really loosey-goosey," she said about the rules of the Little Free Library. "It's free flowing."

In Turnagain, Cindy Pendleton has one rule, and its called the "three 'P's," she said. "No politics, no preaching, no porn." Sometimes she has to take out books from her Little Free Library, which looks like a red barn, and donate them elsewhere.

Pendleton's brother made her the library for her birthday in June 2012. That year, the retired art teacher in her late 60s only asked for one thing: books.

She wanted people to have a place close to their homes with a ready supply of books. She reminisced about a time when libraries dotted Anchorage neighborhoods.

Toni McPherson, the community relations coordinator with the Anchorage Public Library, said at one time the city had nine libraries. Today, it has five.

The city's book collection has a transient history. The first library opened in 1917 in the parish of an Episcopal Church, moving to a hardware store then to the courthouse then to City Hall all before the Z.J. Loussac Public Library opened in 1955.

Now Oscar Avellaneda-Cruz, 30, has a library in his front yard in Airport Heights. It's shaped like a moose.

His Little Free Library's first books were two children's stories written in Spanish. He lives in a diverse neighborhood and sees the libraries as a chance to facilitate conversation.

"It's for building and sharing knowledge," he said.

An earlier version of this story misstated Oscar Avellaneda-Cruz's age. He is 30-years-old, not 32.

Reach Tegan Hanlon at thanlon@adn.com or 257-4589.

 


By TEGAN HANLON
thanlon@adn.com