By Emily Leventhal
The Rockbridge area is getting eight new libraries this year – but not the usual kind.
These libraries are about the size of a large birdhouse, and are created by the residents of Kendal, a retirement community that straddles the Lexington-Rockbridge County line. Each hutch, or “Little Free Library,” will hold a small collection of books for anyone to borrow, return, or expand with a donated book.
“It’ll be interesting to see how it goes, [and] if the books come back,” Kendal Community Facilities Director and project head Ron Smith said. “Hopefully it’ll work out where they’ll continue the circuit.”
The project began when the Pennsylvania-based Kendal Corp. gave Kendal at Lexington a $5,000 grant to do outreach, Smith said. The center’s executive director found the Little Free Library website and suggested it would be a good way to use the funding and engage the community.
The Little Free Library movement began in 2010, when a Wisconsin man wanted to honor his late mother by building the first library. It was a hit, and today there are more than 400 such libraries in at least 24 states and eight countries, the organization says.
The local group at Kendal proposed the project to Lexington City Manager Jon Ellestad, who signed off on it pending any unforeseen problems.
Smith and several residents built the first eight hutches in March. The libraries vary in design, although each is made of wood with a Plexiglas window so potential borrowers can see the books. The Library Committee then bought books to fill each one.
The committee worked closely with local bookstores to choose books that would best serve the community’s needs – whether self-help books at the free clinic or cookbooks at the food pantry, said Sarah Giddings, a member of the committee.
The first of the hutches was set up in late March near the Lime Kiln Bridge Park. The books filling it are geared toward the young children and mothers who frequent the playground there, Smith said.
Three other hutches have also been erected – one along the Woods Creek trail filled with field guides and nature books, another at a Diamond Hill community center, containing “teen-type books,” and the last at the Maury River Senior Center in Buena Vista, with books on health and wellness.
Already, Giddings says, the boxes have had an impact on the community.
“The one at the playground has been up for a week now,” she said. “I drive past it…and I can see from the road that the books are in a slightly different order.”
Giddings hopes the idea will continue to spread.
“I just think it’s a wonderful idea,” she said.
The remaining four libraries will go up in the next few weeks.