REENFIELD — A little red cottage sits atop a pedestal positioned neatly among a cluster of trees along the Pennsy Trail in Greenfield.
The cottage is packed with books of all shapes and sizes, and it catches the eyes of passers-by.
A matching one stands near the jungle gym at Brandywine Park, and another up the road at Riley Park.
They are libraries, only on a miniature scale, located in places readers might not expect. The small wooden structures filled with books are located at various sites around Hancock County.
These Little Free Libraries, as they are called, are a “take a book, return a book” gathering place for neighbors to share their favorite pieces of literature.
The idea was spearheaded by Jeff Butts and a group of citizens from Leadership Hancock County as a way to get families reading.
Butts said he and his Leadership Hancock County group wanted to create a project that would positively affect Hancock County citizens.
“It’s kind of like the little penny jar in the store … You can take a book or leave a book,” Butts said. “We wanted to do something from our leadership class that would have a lasting effect. We want to promote reading.”
Local schoolteachers welcomed news of the project.
They hope the literacy effort will expose children to reading even in the summer months, when they’re prone to what teachers refer to as the “summer slide.”
Summer slide is a term educators use to describe what happens to students’ minds when they don’t continue learning throughout the summer. They can lose up to three months of reading achievement, according to education experts.
Gail Everhart, a resource teacher for the Greenfield-Central School Corp. alternative school, loves the idea of having free books available to those in her classes during summertime.
“This is awesome,” Everhart said. “I know a lot of my kids hang out at the park.”
Butts is an IT specialist at the Hancock County Public Library. He’s working to build and install Little Free Libraries, which are open to anyone in the community, at Riley, Brandywine, Beckenholdt and Commons parks and the little sisters area near the Pennsy Trail.
Those little libraries join one at the Hancock Hope House that only folks staying at the house are able to use.
Butts worked with his father to make the structures. The little libraries were then filled with free books donated from the Friends of the Hancock County Public Library and others looking to give away their old reads.
The collections stored inside the Little Free Libraries are meant to be varied and include books for children and adults, fiction and non-fiction, best-sellers and lesser-known titles, he said.
“We’ll have … books for everybody,” Butts said.
Little Free Libraries are a trend in book-sharing, and locations are popping up all over the United States.
The project started in 2009 in Wisconsin as a way for participants to share their favorite books with their communities, founders said on its website. Since then, the project has spread and includes more than 5,000 registered locations across the country.
Hancock County Public Library Director Dave Gray likes what the leadership group has created.
“I think it is great,” he said. “The Little Free Library is a great program — and to bring it to our county, you can’t beat that.”
With shade trees, picnic tables and grassy areas galore, the parks are an excellent place to spread out and read a book, said Ellen Kuker, superintendent of the Greenfield Parks and Recreation Department.
The Little Free Libraries are a feature none of the county parks previously had. The fresh idea was a great way to encourage reading in them, she added.
“Anytime the parks can partner with an organization to bring in an amenity to the park, we are open to doing that,” Kuker said. “It was really a no-brainer.”
Leadership Hancock County members helped install a small library at the Hancock Hope House a few years ago, said Chris Wiseman, the shelter’s program coordinator. Since then, folks staying there, particularly children, have always taken advantage of the donated books, stacked on a colorful bookshelf.
Every few months, after the books are shuffled and borrowed, they seem to be replaced by a new set for residents to use, Wiseman said. The little library has made a difference at Hancock Hope House, he said.
“I’m glad to see they’re adding more around town,” he said.
Organizers are excited to support a local literacy effort, but they know the little libraries might invite residents to take books without replacing them.
“Maybe if they steal some, maybe they’ll read one,” Butts said with a smile.
Staff Writer Caitlin VanOverberghe contributed to this story.
What is a Little Free Library?
It’s a “take a book, return a book” gathering place where neighbors share their favorite literature and stories. In its most basic form, a Little Free Library is a box full of books. Anyone may stop to pick up a book (or two) or bring a book to share with others.