There's a little movement occurring around the globe that relies on old-fashioned principles of trust, community and literacy.
And the movement has arrived in Oak Creek.
Leigh Dorsey started the first "Little Free Library" in Oak Creek outside her home at 510 E. Bonita Drive. The concept is simple: people visit a birdhouse-sized box, take a book that interests them, and replace it with another.
Anyone can use them, and readers are encouraged to put their name in the book or pass on a note to the next reader.
But as Dorsey notes, the level of participation can vary. People can use it once, they can visit frequently, they can simply donate books, or for the very enthusiastic (like Dorsey), they can start one of their own.
And the purpose of the Little Free Library goes even deeper.
A Free Little Library?
The concept is part of a global initiative started by two Wisconsin natives. Hudson's Todd Bol came up with the idea as a way to honor his late mother, a teacher who loved to read. He teamed up with Madison community outreach expert Rick Brooks, and the idea grew from there.
Their goal was to nurture neighborhoods through literacy, but also bring communities together at these mico-sized gathering places.
"We have found that as soon as they put up their library all their neighbors came," said Megan Hansen, a development specialist with the Little Library organization. "It's just word of mouth once people see one."
Word of mouth certianly does travel. There are about 600 of these little libraries registered around the world, but insiders estimate that well over 3,000 unregistered libraries are in existence.
Dorsey is a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee librarian who was long intrigued by the idea. After months of talking about it, she received the box that now sits outside her home as a birthday gift in June.
Within a day, people were visiting. It's especially been a hit with children in the neighborhood.
"I'm really happy to see the kids doing this," she said. Not only does it get them reading, but it also teaches them to share, she said.
More Than Just Books
While the concept of the free book exchange is simple, other goals of the Little Free Library go deeper.
"One of Todd and Rick's favorite causes to champion books and literacy," Hansen said. "But they're also about community interaction. We can provide a way for people to do that."
Dorsey agreed, saying the library has proved to be a great way to meet her neighbors. She made up fliers and distributed them throughout the neighborhood, and that gave her a chance to introduce herself and explain the project.
People asked about donating and some have left other materials besides books, such as magazines.
Dorsey said she likes leaving for work and coming back to find new books in the box. She also plans to start one at UWM.
"I just think it's a really good concept, not just about the reading but getting people to participate," she said. "I've talked to people I might not have talked to before."