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Little Free Libraries encourage interaction, literacy

Posted September 10

— Robo Fred sits at the end of the Morris' driveway.

His arms and legs are tubes, his hands are PVC pipes, his head is a funnel, and his body is an old newspaper box.

He doesn't move like some robots might. He stands at his post at 12 Franklin Farms Drive and waits to spill his guts to the next visitor.

Robo Fred, whose torso is filled with books for people of all ages, is one of the newest Little Free Libraries in Fairmont.

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Little Free Libraries are maintained by individuals, families, businesses or organizations throughout the world. Built out of various kinds of material, these sites for free book exchanges encourage the public passing by to take a book and leave a book.

Little Free Library is a nonprofit group that fosters the world's book exchanges by having the libraries register to be official locations. There are some unregistered book exchange locations as well.

The concept of Little Free Libraries really started to grow around 2010, and this year, littlefreelibrary.org reports that there are more than 50,000 registered libraries in the world.

A map on the Little Free Libraries website shows three sites in Fairmont, one in Monongah and one in Barrackville.

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Amber Morris and her family created their bionic book-lender over the winter, and set him out for the public's use in mid-July.

Why is the library a robot? Because Amber's two boys - Grant, 3, and Jude, 7 - love robots, she explained. And why Fred? That's actually an acronym for Fostering Reading Every Day.

They had a lot of help from the community in constructing the box. The Times West Virginian donated the newspaper box; D&D Auto Body in Mannington painted the box; Mannington Home Center contributed the plexiglass front; Ace Hardware in Fairmont donated PVC pipe.

Books inside include some for adult readers, such as some written by Stephen King, Anne Rice and Nora Roberts, as well as children's books, such as "The little House on the Prairie" series and Dr. Seuss books.

A lot of the adult books came from donations by several employees at Mon General Pharmacy, where Amber works; however, children's books are plentiful at the Morris home, where they homeschool their children.

Amber keeps the library fresh, not only with books, but other fun things, such as stuffed animal "reading buddies" that encourage parents to read to their children. Recently she put in information for the solar eclipse, which went over really well.

Borrowing traffic at Robo Fred has been light so far, she said, adding that it could be people don't understand the Little Free Library concept.

"We've had a lot of people stop and look and ask questions, but I still think it's kind of novice that they can just take a book," she said. "It's OK to stop and take one even if you don't have a book to put in."

To help get the word out about her library, Amber sent out a letter from the family to the community, and spoke at the local community center to encourage residents to stop by.

"We've seen a few more people stop now that we're starting to get the word out."

As Amber held her family's newest addition, 3-month-old Reese, Grant and Jude looked through the books inside the library.

What does Jude like to read?

"Anything I can get," he said with a smile. He's a fan of the Boxcar Children and the Magic Treehouse series. Amber added that he also reads to his brother, with Grant preferring Dr. Seuss books and the Elephant and Piggie series.

"We homeschool, so reading is a big part of our day-to-day," Amber said. "I feel like as a society we're so into social media that we don't really enjoy good books that you can actually hold anymore."

Their family started the library to not only get to know their neighbors better, but also to bring about a connection to each other and to reading.

"We have tons of books. When I saw (Little Free Libraries), I thought this kind of just goes with our vision of what our family is," Amber said.

Now that the library is up and running, she plans to keep it going, and possibly adding on. She mentioned that she'd like to add in treats for passing dogs, and possibly a bench nearby so people can sit and read.

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Dave Huffman is a Little Free Library veteran. His library at 11 Park Drive opened in November of 2013, and is still running today.

His green library, built out of a magazine holder, is also filled with books for all ages, and he sees kids, adults, families and retirees stop by to pick up books.

"Some are regulars, stopping by every free days on a morning or evening walk, to those that visit every couple weeks or just when they'd like a new read," Dave explained. "Everyone in and visiting our neighborhood has had nothing but nice things to say about it."

He stocked the library with books in the beginning, and new books make their way in all the time.

"The people in our neighborhood have been absolutely wonderful about resupplying the library," he said. "Many times we have more books than will fit."

Dave added that he'd like to give a personal thank-you to everyone who donates to his library, but usually books are left anonymously.

There is a notebook in the library where people can leave comments, also often anonymous. He shared his favorite:

"Thank you so much for maintaining this. I have borrowed and brought several books. Every time I see this library, I think of my beloved Nannie. She was a teacher and always tried to instill a love of reading. She also said you should try to leave a situation better than you found it. This library does both! Thank you!"

The library takes minimal effort to maintain, and Dave said he definitely plans on keeping it going for the people who visit, which he estimated adds up to around a thousand a year.

"I kind of consider it the neighborhood's library now," he said, adding that his neighbors sometimes do more to maintain the library than he does.

For the love of libraries

There are five official Little Free Libraries in the area, according to the organization's map: Amber's at 12 Franklin Farms Drive; Dave's at 11 Park Drive; one in Monongah near the rail trail; and two sponsored by the Marion County Reading Council, one at 1564 Mary Lou Retton Drive and one behind the Barrackville United Methodist Church at 409 Pike St.

Amber said there are resources through Little Free Libraries that she uses for new ideas to update her library, and Dave encouraged those interested in starting their own library to "just do it."

"Your neighborhood will most likely love and embrace it, and thank you for it," he said. "Even if you have just a few books to begin with, I can almost guarantee that people will donate and fill it."

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