Building community with a front yard library

Mar. 01, 2014 @ 11:44 AM

“We’ve got a new library in our front yard.”
My grandchildren's report should not have surprised me. These kids and their parents have chickens and bees in their backyard and a host of projects that sometimes make me wish I could be a child again, just to grow up again alongside of them.
But a library in their yard?
Sure enough, when I dropped by their house in the Briarcliff section of Chapel Hill the other day, there it was, a small, watertight box on the pole, facing the street, full of books for children and adults, and inviting passersby to take one, leave one.
The children's dad, Cotton Bryan, principal of Woods Charter School, explained that his family's project was a Little Free Library, part of a growing national movement that since it began in 2010 has resulted in thousands of these tiny libraries finding their way into the front yards of people across the country.
The Bryans’ library box looks something like a large birdhouse, highly decorated with bottle caps. “Our kids were involved at all stages of design and construction,” Bryan said. “There are 684 bottle caps on the outside.  The kids decided on this motif after seeing a fair amount of folk art at home and at their grandparents’ house.”
Bryan is proud of “a special feature of the library box, which is a motion-activated, battery-powered light inside the library that helps with late-in-the-day and twilight browsing.”
Even though the library is only a few weeks old, Bryan says, “We were amazed by how many interactions with walkers and neighbors the Little Free Library facilitated.  It instantly generated a lot of positive energy and goodwill in the neighborhood.
“We have three community art books in our library that circulate.  These are sketchbooks that borrowers take home, use a few pages for their art, then return to the library for others to contribute.  Over time you can see art from all over the neighborhood and town.”
What prompted the family project? Bryan explained, “With so many forces at work in the direction away from community, toward isolation, all these little things we can do that bring us together, particularly ones that are utterly voluntary and involve no money  . . . well, those are inherently good in my view.  Similarly, any chance we have of infusing a little beauty and a little wonder into the world for people is a positive move in the direction away from ugly and the ordinary.”
The Little Free Library movement has also caught on with some professional librarians. For instance retired University of North Carolina Professor of Library and Information Science David Carr, now living in Sandy Springs, Ga., said that building and stocking his Little Free Library “was a great pleasure. I’m helping people think about reading. Helping them find places in books.”
Find more about the Little Free Library movement at
D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon (pre-empted until March 30) and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. Viewers with access to UNC-TV’s digital channel UNC-MX can preview the program on the preceding Friday at 9 p.m. See today’s Herald-Sun Book Page for details. For information or to view prior programs visit Martin’s regular weekly column appears on The Herald-Sun’s editorial page Wednesdays and online at