ST. GEORGE – Moving down 300 South in downtown St. George, passersby may notice what could be mistaken for a bright blue and pink mailbox or birdhouse at first, but it’s neither. Upon closer inspection, they’ll see the words “Maddy’s Free Library.”
The little library, created from an old kitchen cabinet and donated materials, sits in front of the Hymas home and encourages young readers in the neighborhood to “take a book” and “leave a book,” as written on the cabinet doors.
“I like to show books and share them,” Maddy, who turns 9 later this month, said as she stood by the little library filled with children’s books. Some are classic Dr. Suess stories like “Cat in the Hat,” while others include those from the “Junie B Jones” series.
Carrie Hymas, Maddy’s mother, said her daughter loves to read and often shares her books with her younger cousin. The little library set up in the front yard is a broader extension of that.
“That’s kind of her idea: to share with all her buddies,” Hymas said.
Maddy and her family got the idea for the little free library around a year ago after seeing a similar project on TV.
Work on building the little library didn’t start until early May with the finished product being put in the front yard later that month, Hymas said.
The bulk of the little library is made from an old kitchen cabinet, with donated license plates for the roof, and other materials, like the doors, donated from Aspen Mill.
The primary idea behind the small, front yard library is to provide books to those that want to read them. They can either take the book and return it later, or swap it out with a new book entirely.
“We have a lot of kids stop by and use books and take books,” Hymas said. “Most people bring books from home.”
It’s a good idea that promotes literacy, plus everyone has a pile of books at home they no longer read and can share, Hymas said. As for Maddy’s Little Library, her family would like to keep it focused on books for children and young adults.
The phrase “take a book, leave a book,” has been adapted to a larger movement called Little Free Libraries. While the Hymases are familiar with the group, they are not directly affiliated with it.
The program started in 2009 in Wisconsin and has since spread across the county and the globe. According to the Little Free Library website, there are 40,000 little libraries that participate in the free book exchange worldwide.
“It’s a very large program and helps bring communities and neighborhoods together through spreading literacy and sharing books in an informal sort of way,” said Ami Comeford, an associate professor of English at Dixie State University.
Comeford became interested in the program after a student brought it to her attention a couple of years ago, she said.
“It gives people the opportunity to share what they read with others,” Comeford said.
While a number of the little libraries are known to exist in the St. George area, only one in Washington City is listed on the map on the Little Free Libraries website. Another three are located in and around Cedar City, with a horde occupying points in northern Utah. One is also listed in Beaver Dam, Arizona.
Comeford wants to get more little libraries set up in St. George and Washington City and has approached both cities about allowing the little libraries to be set up in a more public venue, like a park.
During a recent City Council meeting, City Manager Roger Carter expressed concerns about possible vandalism toward the small libraries and who would be in charge of keeping them stocked, clean and maintained.
“My students and I would be the long-term stewards of the libraries,” Comeford said. They would keep the libraries full of books and see to the general upkeep of the wooden structures. As for vandalism, Comeford said is unaware of any major instances of such from her research in the program.
“I don’t see that as prohibitive,” she said.
There would be some initial cost involved in building the little libraries, but Comeford said she has already arranged for some of the libraries to be built as Eagle Scout projects.
It is hoped that the libraries will be completed and installed in parts of the cities by October, which is National Book Month.
“I think it’s good in every neighborhood,” Hymas said. “It promotes literacy and everyone’s got books at home that they love that they’re not reading anymore – so donate them.”
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