Carey Mitchell’s book collection had grown so large, he took some of the books to work and put them in a closet.
It wasn’t long until others followed his lead.
Then people started swapping books. People, some of whom Mitchell says hadn’t read since high school, were picking up books to read, some going through a book a week or more.
“We didn’t even promote it,” said Mitchell, who is now retired from Shaw Industries.
He knows sometimes the only thing it takes to get people interested in reading is to make free books easily accessible.
And by being part of the United Way of Northwest Georgia’s project to install 25 Little Free Libraries throughout Whitfield and Murray counties, he hopes more people will start reading on a consistent basis.
Little Free Libraries resemble large birdhouses and serve as a book swap location. People can put one book in, take one out to read or keep one. Both children’s books and adult books from several different genres are included.
“It gives so many people access to books,” said Jim Gordon, who is helping with the project. “It promotes literacy.”
Across the nation, many of the libraries are at people’s homes. The website www.littlefreelibrary.org warns that putting them in public places, such as parks, can be hard because of the need to obtain permission from government officials to do so.
That’s not the case in Whitfield or Murray counties, said Margaret Zeisig, director of community solutions for the United Way.
“Right away, they were on board,” she said.
All of the libraries will be in public parks and spaces, including the Mack Gaston Community Center in Dalton, Lakeshore Park, Mount Rachel hiking and biking trail, Edwards Park, Westside Park, Veterans Memorial Park in Murray County and the Eton Park.
United Way is also paying to register a similar library that was put in the Chatsworth City Park in the fall by members of Alpha Delta Kappa that they called the Book Barn. It will become an official Little Free Library, which means it will be registered on the website, mapped on that site and can be found using a global positioning system (GPS). Members of the organization will still maintain it.
Zeisig said she wanted the community to have a place to swap books after the Book Nook closed in downtown Dalton last summer. When a friend posted information about a Little Free Library on Facebook, she thought that would be a good solution for Whitfield and Murray counties.
“We needed something here in our neighborhood,” she said. “I didn’t realize how hard it would be to build 25. It’s a bigger project than I thought it would be.”
The libraries are being built by three woodworking friends: Mitchell, Howard Elder and Gary Asbury. Zeisig asked Mitchell to become involved to help maximize resources, for example, how to cut the wood to make 25 and leave the least amount of waste possible. Lowe’s sold materials at cost, shaving several hundred dollars off the project, Zeisig said.
Mitchell built one, realized it was too big and too heavy, but he used it to test the design and to test wood to make sure it was waterproof. He then built one on a smaller scale.
“We’ll build 25 of those, get it right and get it done,” he said. “We’ll spray them with primer and volunteers can paint them any color they want.”
The team plans to start building them next week, which means the first ones could be available to the public by the end of January.
The problem is the United Way still needs volunteers to be stewards of the Little Free Libraries. Zeisig says she needs a person, family or organization who will volunteer to maintain a library and check on it about once a week. They need to make sure people aren’t throwing trash in them or putting inappropriate reading material in them.
The stewards can paint the library however they want.
The Book Gallery at Market Street Shops is donating several books to get the libraries started.
Self-published children’s author Kathy Mashburn, who is an administrative assistant at the Whitfield County Schools central office, is also donating a case of her books to the libraries. A proceed of her books sold will go back to the United Way and Little Free Libraries.
“With all of my projects, I like to give back to the community,” Mashburn said. “I wanted a place to donate. ... I’ve always been a giver. Since I work in the school, literacy is part of my heart.”
Zeisig says studies have shown if children see adults reading they’re more likely to read. She hopes this will encourage families to read more often and together.
The United Way focuses on three areas in the community: education, basic needs and health.
“This hits on all three,” said Andrea Mansfield, director of community engagement. “Reading is a big part of education. ... Health, get out in the parks. Basic needs, have to be able to read for jobs and things like reading food labels.”
Zeisig says she hopes all of the Little Free Libraries are in place by spring.