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Coming across a little pocket of literary joy in the Broadmoor-Broadway Village Neighborhood is a bit like discovering a special hiding place or a secret clubhouse.
But the Little Free Library in the timeless Tucson neighborhood is no secret. It’s one of more than 15,000 tiny libraries – and one of about a dozen in Tucson – that are part of the worldwide Little Free Library movement, created by lovers of books and builders of community.
In Tucson, neighborhoods are creating their own little public libraries – places where neighbors can gather, drop off a book and take one home. The motto is take a book, return a book.
The movement started in 2009, when Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin, built a model of a one-room schoolhouse as a tribute to his mother, a former teacher who loved reading. He filled it with books and put it on a post in his front yard, with a sign that read “Free Books.” Neighbors and friends loved it, and he built several more and gave them away.
Today, the number of registered Little Free Libraries across the world grows daily, overloading the map at the nonprofit’s website, littlefreelibrary.org
Among the newest additions is the Broadmoor-Broadway Village Little Free Library, which was “planted” in a neighborhood pocket park Sept. 21, said Joan Thomas, who spearheaded the project with neighbors and her daughter, Debbie Weingarten, who maintains the library as steward. The neighborhood is southwest of Broadway and Country Club Road
“This all started a year ago,” Thomas said. “I was walking with a neighbor and we got on the subject of this box with books and what a fantastic idea it was for a neighborhood.”
After months of research and conversations, she got in touch with Meg Johnson, who helped start a Little Free Library in Tucson’s Garden District Neighborhood a couple of years ago.
With tons of information and motivation, Broadmoor neighbors first looked in thrift shops for a cabinet they could repurpose. The perfect cabinet appeared as neighbors launched a remodeling project and donated a kitchen cabinet to the effort.
Tapping into the talents of neighbors, the project took on a life of its own. Neighbor Ryan Brown, a woodworker, “took a plain kitchen cabinet and created a weatherproof Little Free Library, adding an attic space,” Thomas said.
Neighbors took the cabinet to Xerocraft Hackerspace downtown, where they learned to remove the front wood panels and install Plexiglas panes during a women’s crafting night.
Artist Judy Nostrant created the artwork — a charming javelina with curly eyelashes, a family of quail and a desert tortoise admiring books.
“It was neighbors saying, ‘We can do this,’ ” Thomas said. “At least 30 neighbors were involved. The box was transported to four different homes in the neighborhood for various parts of the construction and artwork. We have an amazing community, filled with very talented neighbors.”
And they had the perfect space. Six years ago, neighbors came together with a vision for a small park and got a grant. The pocket park, at Malvern Street and Arroyo Chico, has picnic tables decorated with tiles created by families and is stocked with chalk for poetry writing and bubbles for blowing.
Now the park is home to the Little Free Library, filled with about 75 books for children and adults and games to play in the park. The titles are ever changing, from “The Secret Garden” to “Captain Underpants” and John Grisham bestsellers.
The library respects the values of the neighborhood, from a love of literature to embracing local wildlife and a mission to reuse and recycle, Thomas said.
“It gives us a location for people to gather around books,” said Weingarten, who spends time at the library with sons Eli, 2, and Leo, 3 months. “It’s been a labor of love for all of the people in the neighborhood.”
Just east of Broadmoor-Broadway Village, neighbors in the San Clemente Neighborhood recently installed a Little Free Library near Columbus Boulevard and Cooper Street. They had so many books donated that they shared with their Broadmoor neighbors.
Helen Curtis started the San Clemente Little Free Library after seeing one in Seattle. Curtis, an associate broker with Realty Executives Tucson Elite, loved the idea of sharing literature and building community.
“I used an old toy box that I had when I was a child and I turned it into a library and a neighbor built a roof, which is the hardest part,” Curtis said.
The sky-blue library sits on a post in a triangular patch of desert, with a mesquite tree providing shade. A matching blue swing hangs from the tree. Curtis has received donations of more than 200 books, so the library’s offerings change frequently.
Neighborhood kids decorate bookmarks, which are free for the taking.
“We have an unofficial library cat named Freebie that people come and feed when they come to the library,” Curtis said.
Neighborhood reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, Curtis said. “It’s a fun little project. It really adds to the sense of community and spreads the word that reading is important.”
Other Tucson neighborhoods have been creative with their Little Free Libraries. A sculpture of an 8-foot-long Gila monster reading a book lounges beside the Little Free Library in the Dunbar Spring Neighborhood and residents of the Rincon Heights Neighborhood enjoy a seed library near their Little Free Library.
In 2012, Michelle Graye helped start the Little Free Library in Rincon Heights, south of the University of Arizona. It was number 637 on the international Little Free Library map, Graye said.
“We are very well-read in this neighborhood because we value reading,” said Graye, who finds a variety of ways to spread books and other literature throughout her neighborhood.
Graye, who said there are about a dozen Little Free Libraries in Tucson, purchased a library box from the Little Free Library website, made from reclaimed barn wood.
Some libraries, like hers, include a guest book. Neighbors can comment on the books, sharing ideas and opinions.
“Mission No. 1 is building literacy and No. 2 is building community, and this does both,” Graye said. “People love this. It’s going to spread like the Macarena.”
Contact local freelance writer Gabrielle Fimbres at firstname.lastname@example.org
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