Right outside the front entrance of Bel-Aire Elementary School sits a wooden box. It’s no bigger than a microwave box, but inside it’s full of possibilities and adventures.
The box is the newest Little Free Library of Tullahoma, and it was created by Bel-Aire art teacher Jennifer Uselton as a way for more people to have access to books.
Built by Uselton and her husband Ken, the Bel-Aire Little Free Library is in the process of receiving official recognition by the Little Free Library organization, which means it will be feature on a world map of Little Free Libraries around the globe, she said.
Uselton said her desire to construct the Little Free Library at Bel-Aire came from her work as an educator.
“Being in education, I couldn’t think of a better way to be a good neighbor,” she said.
Uselton also has a Little Free Library posted in the yard of her own home, and she felt adding one where she works would be a great way to foster community spirit creatively.
“My husband and I are pretty creative, so we couldn’t think of a better creative way to express ourselves and support our community at the same time,” she said.
Each Little Free Library is different, meaning there are a wide variety of designs for them. They generally follow the template of a weather-proof box filled with books, but the outside of the boxes can take on any color scheme or design imaginable.
The Bel-Aire library box is painted in the school colors of yellow and black and features some hand-painted bees to reflect the school mascot.
Uselton said it took some found objects and a few hours of construction and painting work to put the library together.
“This originally was a moving crate,” Uselton said of the box. She and her husband spent a couple of weekends reconstructing the crate and painting it to be an attractive little library to post outside of the school.
About Little Free Libraries
According to its website, Little Free Library is a worldwide network of free libraries where people can have free access to books and instill a love of reading.
Millions of books are exchanged through the Little Free Libraries each year, the website states, which “profoundly” increases access to books for “readers of all ages.”
There are more than 75,000 registered book exchanges through Little Free Libraries around the world – in 88 countries, to be exact.
“Tens of millions of books are exchanged each year through these Little Libraries,” according to the website.
The project began in 2009 in Hudson, Wisconsin, when a man named Todd Bol built a scale model of a one-room schoolhouse as a tribute to his mother.
He filled it with books and attached the box to a post in his front yard, which attracted friends and neighbors. He then built several more of the boxes and gave them away.
The project attracted the attention of Rick Brooks of the University of Wisconsin – Madison, who saw the potential in the boxes as an Andrew Carnegie-inspired “take-a-book; leave-a-book” enterprise.
Carnegie had set a goal around the turn of the 20th century to create more than 2,500 free public libraries across the English-speaking world. This mission was something Bol and Brooks felt they could achieve with the book boxes, so they set out to build 2,508 little libraries by the end of 2013.
They ended up surpassing that goal in August of 2012.
Having the Little Free Libraries stocked around town also brings more access to books and to reading, Uselton said.
“Ken and I grew up in a rural community, and often we used reading as a way to get away,” she said. “I know it sounds like a cliché, but it is true – reading opened up the world to us. Reading inspired us to travel all over the world to see, smell, hear, taste and feel things we would have never known about had we not read about it first in a book.”
Because reading was so instrumental in her life, Uselton said she hoped building this library would help enrich the lives of others.
“I hope this Little Free Library will open the world for some of my students and/or their whole family and make their lives richer as well,” she said.
The Little Free Library at Bel-Aire is currently stuffed with all kinds of children’s and young adult books, though Uselton said it’s perfectly acceptable to exchange cookbooks or comic books through the box as well.
Eventually, she said, she’ll add a small journal inside as a guestbook so anyone who visits can leave a message about who they are or where they’re from inside.
For more information about Little Free Library worldwide, visit littlefreelibrary.org.
Erin McCullough may be reached at email@example.com.