Some are big and elaborate, many are small and simple.
Some look like the building they’re in front of, while others look like boats or spacecraft or castles or are tucked into trees.
While out and about on a walk or bike ride, it’s almost impossible to not run into a little free library.
Little free libraries are exactly what they sound like: book exchanges that run on the idea of “Take a book, leave a book.”
According to the Little Free Library website, www.littlefreelibrary.org, there are more than 80,000 libraries registered in 91 countries.
Jan Hansen, who runs Little Library Builder of Spokane with her partner Tom Roach and sister Diann Talbott, said an increase in little free libraries in the Inland Northwest is following national trends.
“Every year, you get that many out there and then that many more people see them, it literally doubles every year,” she said.
Hansen, Roach and Talbott built their first library in 2014 for Roach’s sister.
They then decided to put one up in front of their home in the Audubon Park neighborhood.
Since then, Hansen said she’s built at least 100 houses since then – “easy.”
Hansen offers a variety of libraries. The “Mini-Me” is a replica of the home or business it’s in front of.
“Whimsical or Eye-Catching” is a good choice for someone looking for bright colors or a fun shape, and “Traditional” is exactly that, an elegant little free library.
While designing a free library, Hansen sends the customer a photo-realistic rendering of their library, going back and forth with edits until the customer is pleased.
Then, she sets to work in her shop – aka her one-car garage – where she usually has three or four libraries in the works at one time.
Hansen said the wackiest library she’s built was a water tower, which matched an actual water tower in Phoenix.
She’s sending another water tower library, this one 4 feet tall, to the Westin Kierland Villas in Scottsdale.
The farthest one of her libraries has traveled is to South Carolina.
Over the years, Hansen, a retired paralegal who said she’s always been a hands-on, jack-of-all-trades kind of person, has learned a lot when it comes to building libraries.
For one thing, don’t get regular plywood, as it will eventually fall apart. Instead, Hansen prefers medium density overlay panel.
“It’s expensive, over $80 a sheet, but it’s so worth it,” she said.
“The biggest cat’s meow,” however, is 3-D printing.
Hansen has teamed up with college student Cyrus Cruze, a local 3-D printer, to incorporate sturdy printed elements into the libraries she creates.
Though she’s an avid reader herself, Hansen doesn’t think the books are the biggest draw of a little free library.
Instead, it’s the sense of community that forms around each one.
One woman inquired about a library because she wanted to leave the neighborhood with something nice after she moved away.
Another ordered a library and makes it a point to speak with everyone who stops by.
“We met more people in the first two weeks we put our library up than we had the nine years we lived here,” Hansen said.
Though there are dozens more libraries in the Inland Northwest, here’s a look at 10 standouts. For list of little free libraries, visit www.littlefreelibrary.org.
Gizmo-CDA, North Idaho College campus, 283 N. Hubbard St., Hedlund Building, Suite 142, Coeur d’Alene
According to Gizmo-CDA makerspace maven Tarin Leach, people who see the organization’s TARDIS-shaped library have one of two reactions.
If they’re a fan of “Doctor Who,” they’ll see the blue time machine/spacecraft that resembles a police box and say “That is so awesome!” If not, they’ll simply admire the unique shape of the library.
The library was built by Mary Nichol and has been with Gizmo-CDA, first at their original location in Midtown and now at their NIC space, since 2015.
“I moved it to the main hallway in the building so I can use it as a direction. ‘Turn at the TARDIS,’ ” Leach said. “I never thought I could say that in a conversation.”
Leach said she and the rest of the folks at Gizmo-CDA appreciate that the TARDIS allows them to both educate and interact with members of the community, especially those Leach wasn’t initially aware enjoyed the library.
Leach teaches a MakerTots class for 4- to 6-year-olds and was told by one student that the TARDIS was severely lacking in “little kid books.”
Leach listened and the following week told the young girl to check the library.
“She was so excited to open it up and be like ‘Yes, I get to take a book now,’ ” Leach said. “I didn’t necessarily realize to the extent the littlest people were looking in it. They’re very verbal about it … Little kids are like ‘Um, excuse me!’ ”
A Street Library, 716 A. St., Coeur d’Alene
Artist, bookbinder and Coeur d’Alene Library employee Sharalee Armitage Howard received international attention for her little free library, or little tree library.
After realizing the 110-year-old tree in her front yard was past its prime, Armitage Howard found a company to cut it down and contour the trunk to match her vision of a library.
The green, glass-paned door is bordered on top by dentil molding in the shape of miniature books, titles like “Call of the Wild,” “Nancy Drew,” “Grapes of Wrath,” “The Hobbit” and “Little Women.”
Inside, three shelves are filled with books just waiting to be read. Lights illuminate the exterior and interior, giving the whole thing an even cozier feel.
“It doesn’t need to be there, it’s unexpected, it’s not required,” Armitage Howard told the Spokesman-Review in January. “(The library is) giving the people the joy of stumbling upon something that’s just there to be neat, to be a bonus, to be magical, to add a little bit of joy to somebody’s day.”
The Inland Empire Gardeners, 1722 S. Bettman Road, Spokane Valley
This little library, sponsored by the Inland Empire Gardeners, has something for everyone.
The two-story library, which was built by Hansen, is painted a deep purple and light green and lit with solar-powered lights. It features gardening books and books for young readers.
There’s also a bin for dog treats and another for candy for the children who often pass the library after getting off the school bus.
“I don’t know if the kids are running for the books,” Inland Empire Gardeners President ViAnn Meyer said with a laugh. “I suspect they’re running for the candy.”
There are also pencils and bookmarks for children, plus information about garden club activities.
The library also doubles as a seed exchange. There are usually packets of seeds from the Dollar Store, though members will sometimes put seeds of their own in the library.
“It’s quite the little enterprise out there,” Meyer said.
Matt and Sarah Miller, 3923 N. Whitehouse St.
As the Millers write on the Little Free Library website, their library is the result of a group project with their roommates.
Half of the roommates, it seemed, had lots of books to share, while the other half were skilled builders, so they combined their talents to create a little free library.
To add some extra fun to their library, the group made it a geocache location as well. The clue “I love books,” or more accurately “I heart books,” should help lead you to the cache. Take a book and/or sign the geocache log.
Deer Creek Crossing Little Free Library, 4686 E. Upper Hayden Lake Road, Hayden Lake
This little library, established in 2013, was named in honor of Barb Neal’s father, a journeyman bookbinder and avid reader, who liked to sit on the deck and watch deer cross the creek.
The library is in a location as picturesque as the name suggests. To access the library, cross over a small footbridge. Then once you’ve selected a book, you can sit for awhile on a nearby bench.
Neal said the back of the property acts as a fawn nursery, where deer will leave their fawn for hours at a time, so it’s still possible to watch for deer while you read.
The library usually features a variety of books: children’s books, books on gardening, travel and history, biographies, mysteries and more.
Today, others have made the library part of their family too.
“We even have four generations of a family that comes down on Thanksgiving,” she said. “They make it their tradition to come down after Thanksgiving dinner.”
A group of children also often visit the library, fighting over who gets to carry the book each time.
“We’ve been very blessed to have this to offer to everyone,” Neal said.
Rosalia Library, 506 S. Whitman Ave., Rosalia
This library may be in a small town, but it makes a big impact with its unusual shape – “R” for Rosalia.
But this library is one of four maintained by the Whitman County Rural Library District.
There’s one in Tekoa that features the city’s name on its door, and one in Palouse shaped like a geometric oval. The one in Colfax matches the main library branch it’s set in front of.
The little free libraries in Rosalia, Tekoa and Palouse were designed by Washington State University students, while the one in Colfax was built by Hansen.
“Our Friends of the Library decided that would be a good thing to do to spread reading out in the community,” Whitman County Library Business Manager Shirley Cornelius said. “It started with books – children’s books and adult books – but now we’re even putting things like … audio books and DVDs that go out of circulation.”
Wendy Jones, 17951 S. Raccoon Court, Coeur d’Alene
Wendy Jones’ little library is a former Spokesman-Review newspaper stand, but you would hardly know that by looking at it.
Jones completely transformed the stand. She spray painted the red and white box a dark brown, then painted birds and trees on the stand to match the rural area in which she lives.
She used recycled lumber to make a roof and topped it with forest twigs. She also used a twig to create a handle.
How’s that for thinking outside the (newspaper) box?
12402 E. Saltese Ave., Spokane Valley
After you’ve ordered your coffee, stop by the little library at Galaxy Grind and pick up something to read. While not officially chartered with littlefreelibrary.org, the cute box is a a replica of the coffee shop.
Owner Olivia Goss had the library installed two years ago. She won a library for her mom at an auction, then decided one would make Galaxy Grind stand out and help occupy the children who come into the shop, especially during the summers.
“When parents with their kids come into the lobby, lots of times they grab a book to try to entertain their kids when they’re trying to hang out and catch up with their girlfriend or whatever,” Goss said. “Then their kids are easily entertained and it’s not with a tablet or technology – old school.”
Lil Hobbit Library, 3525 W. Second Ave.
Come for the little library; stay for the Hobbit House.
Ryan Oelrich, a balloon artist, the founder of Spokane Sidewalk Games and executive director of the nonprofit Priority Spokane, set up his library, which features a faux moss-covered roof and an Eye of Sauron-esque design on its door, in front of the Hobbit House he build partially under the front porch of his home.
By Oelrich’s estimate, the Hobbit House is just 75 square feet. Not including the skylight, the ceiling is 6 feet at its highest point. There is also a geocache at the Hobbit House waiting to be found.
“It’s a magical setting,” Oelrich told the Spokesman-Review in September. “I kind of feel like I’m not in Spokane when I’m in here; I’m somewhere entirely different. It’s a nice escape.”
Tabea Peske, 2919 N. Harmony Road, Spokane Valley
In Tabea Peske’s words, her father can make anything.
When her sister stumbled upon a little free library and decided she wanted one of her own, Peske’s father got to work. Since then, he has built a library for anyone who has asked.
While moving into her home in August 2016, Peske mentioned to her father that she’d like one that matched the house.
“He didn’t confirm that he was going to build one, but we moved into our house in August and that Christmas a little matching free library showed up under the Christmas tree,” Peske, a first grade teacher at Sheridan Elementary School, said in an email.
Sure enough, the little library features the same shade of dark gray as the Peske home.
Peske said the library is kept well-stocked with a variety of books, everything from children’s books and cookbooks to mystery novels and textbooks.
“No matter the genre of book, it always gets taken and replaced with something new,” Peske said.
Peske is happy that her neighbors enjoy her little library and to know that she’s sharing her love of reading with others.
“I especially love that kids use it,” she said. “Being a teacher, I frequently put children’s books in it and they are always gone within a few days.”
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