More colorful miniature libraries will be popping up around Charlotte, thanks to the efforts of one summer camp.
The tiny structures found in neighborhoods hold dozens of books that anyone can take as long as they leave one behind. These stands, called Little Free Libraries, are part of a movement that started in Wisconsin when Todd Bol built a replica of a red schoolhouse to honor his late mother.
Bol is now the executive director of the nonprofit Little Free Library organization, which brings books into communities. There are more than 50,000 registered Little Free Libraries across the United States and in 70 other countries, and more than 100 of them are in the Charlotte area.
Three more will be added to the list when the Design Build Power Up summer camp ends.
At the camp, local high school students are spending one week designing and building the free libraries. When they’re done, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department will place the libraries in three communities in southwest Charlotte and fill them with books from the more than 3,000 that CMPD has collected. The camp is part of Central Piedmont Community College’s STEM Summer Experience camps.
The campers get to be a part of every step of the building process, from designing with an architect to using a computer lab to make the plans. Although they won’t have time to paint the libraries, campers get a chance to show off their hard work to the sponsors of the camp: ACE Mentor Program, Bruce Irons Camp Fund, Doyle Dickerson Terrazzo and the Crowder Construction Institute.
“When you learn a trade … all of a sudden you’ve got something that no one can take away,” said Steve Corriher, director of the Construction Technologies Division at CPCC.
Corriher said they divide participants into teams during the camp, which helps teach them how to get along with people of different backgrounds.
“Nothing is going to get built if you can’t figure out how to get along,” he said.
Brandon Barbar, 16, said he has seen Little Free Libraries in his neighborhood, but now he knows how much work goes into getting them there.
“It gives me joy because most people don’t have access to books and it is going to be right there in their face, so there isn’t an excuse,” he said.
Olivia Manning, 15, said she has been interested in carpentry, and the camp gave her a chance to pursue that interest.
“It has just been overall a really cool experience,” she said. “It is my first time ever officially building something.”
Teaching the students how to use power tools and build the libraries starts with a demo and giving them a chance to make mistakes, said Tom Derthick, the instructional lab facilitator. He said he knew it would be challenging with the different skill levels and the time constraints.
“When they kind of get the skills that you’re trying to show them, when it clicks, they get excited and that is exciting to us, too,” he said.
There are other efforts to get free libraries in neighborhoods. The city’s Neighborhood Matching Grant Program and the Friends Council of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library Foundation are working to put Little Free Libraries across Charlotte.
The Library Foundation has around 40 little libraries they check on, said Melanie Baron, the marketing and communications specialist for the Library Foundation. They helped install the libraries through events, working with Habitat for Humanity and the Knight Foundation or purchasing some.
“It just makes books accessible,” Baron said.
Baron said they put a mixture of books in each library and try to tailor them to the neighborhood – including bilingual books, for example.
Philip Freeman, the city’s Neighborhood Matching Grants Program manager, said the city matches dollar for dollar or volunteer hour, which is valued around $24. Based on the size of the neighborhood, the program can give $10,000 to $25,000. The program funded six Little Free Libraries earlier this year.
Between 2015 and now, the grant program has helped fund multiple Little Free Libraries in the Madison Park, Oaklawn Park, Belmont and Prosperity Village communities.
“We see it as a win-win situation for us and the community,” Freeman said.
Jamie Gwaltney: 704-358-5612, @jamielgwaltney