For years, the neighbors of Arlington Court in Charleston would casually trade books for one another to read, usually by leaving them outside for their friends to find.
Shawn Means loved the idea, and set out to improve it. After learning about it from one of his neighbors, Means, the executive director of Habitat for Humanity in Kanawha and Putnam Counties, researched an idea that had taken hold in cities across the world — Little Free Libraries. Started in 2009, Little Free Libraries are small boxes filled with free books with signs that encourage people to take books they want and to leave books they’d like to share.
“Since we shared books already, this was a way for us to protect them from the weather and be part of this neat movement,” Means said. “Everyone was really enthusiastic about it, so I volunteered to build it and found a place to put it.”
Means built his own LFL out of materials from the Habitat for Humanity ReStore in 2012. He said the idea has really taken hold in Arlington Court, and a few months ago, Tim McClung took notice. McClung, a board member for the Literacy Volunteers of Kanawha County, said he found the Arlington Court LFL on littlefreelibrary.org, and saw Means listed as its steward.
“I knew there was this little library in Arlington Court, but I hadn’t realized it was part of this big thing,” McClung said. “I knew Shawn Means was over at Habitat, and I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be neat to go to the ReStore and build one, and support their mission, as well as that of Little Free Libraries.”
Anyone who wants to start their own Little Free Library can order a kit from the organization’s website, or they can build their own and have it registered through the organization. McClung wanted to expand the idea to other parts of Charleston and Kanawha County, and so the Literacy Volunteers partnered with Habitat for Humanity to build a second LFL for Charleston’s West Side.
McClung said the design for the West Side’s LFL is unique, and the groups are working to determine a location for it by June 17, when the LVKC will host a free event for communities and citizens to learn more about LFLs and how to start their own. The group plans to raffle off a third LFL, as well as $100 ReStore gift certificate, to encourage community organizations and leaders to build more LFLs in the area.
“They create excitement for reading, which I think is something everyone needs — to re-energize their excitement for reading,” said Amy McLaughlin, director of Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore and Means’ wife. “They’re such an expression of a particular community, that it gets you excited. It’s a reflection of my neighbors — those are their books.”
Means said even watching people visit the LFL in Arlington Court has been rewarding, and he hopes other communities can benefit similarly. His neighbors aren’t the only ones who use the LFL, either — he has seen everyone from passersby to transient people to geocachers stop to take a book from the library.
“I can see it from my front porch, and I can see the turnover of books going through it,” Means said. “People have a tendency to feel like they have to return the book to the library, but that’s really not the concept at all. If we see visitors who are intrigued by it, we make sure to tell them that they don’t need to worry about bringing it back.”
“Growing Literacy One Little Free Library at a Time” will be held June 17 at 6 p.m. at the Habitat for Humanity Homeowner Education & Community Center. The event is free and open to the public. For more information on Little Free Libraries, visit www.littlefreelibrary.org.
Reach Lydia Nuzum at