Walk down Lewis Street in downtown Frankfort, and the brightly colored box hanging on a brick wall might catch your eye.
It’s a brand new library – the Little Free Library – and its one and only shelf fits about 20 titles, a hodgepodge of novels, how-to guides, children’s books and just about anything else Ellen Glasgow finds to fill it.
The books are free, and everything operates on the honor system. The idea is pretty simple: If you take a book, bring one back to replace it.
“More people need to read, and we need to promote it,” said Glasgow, a self-described book-aholic and owner of Capital Gallery at 314 Lewis St.
Glasgow is a fan of the classics – paper and ink, that is. She says she has a Kindle, but rarely uses it, and sometimes even forgets it’s there.
“I like the feel of the book, I like the pages,” she said. “I like turning pages. It’s tactile as well as mental stimulation.”
A Wisconsin-based nonprofit organization sparked the Little Free Library movement in 2009 with the goal of building 2,510 free libraries around the world – one more than steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie constructed.
Glasgow first heard about the project when she read an article about a Little Free Library box in Lexington. There are at least three in the city, with branches at a coffee shop, a fire station and the Y.
The artist wanted to give Frankfort its first miniature library, so she recruited her 10-year-old grandson, Dylan, to help. A tiny wooden sign that hangs from the front of the box declares it the 3,013th in the world.
They got to work a few weeks ago, painting an old wooden box, attaching a piece of Plexiglas to the front with a piano hinge, and decorating it with a small knob.
Dylan painted Zen symbols on the box to represent the give and take of the library. He signed it “Ellen and Dylan” on the top and painted messages of “Take a book, give a book, yeah!” and “Let’s read now! Trade” on the sides.
A fifth-grader at Westridge Elementary, Dylan said he likes to read funny stories, especially comic books. Building the library was one of the many projects he and Glasgow do together when he visits.
“She just pulled me into it,” he said, as he folded a paper airplane on the floor nearby her desk, prompting his grandmother to laugh heartily.
Glasgow said the Little Free Library website provides building plans, but she and Dylan decided to make their own using mostly materials they already had. Her husband, Jim, helped assemble it.
“I just like the idea of people being encouraged to read, and of course, Dylan’s a big reader,” she said. “That was our present to Frankfort.”
Glasgow and her grandson filled the box with books from their own shelves to get things started. There’s a label in each that asks borrowers not to sell them.
The Little Free Library website says they’ve heard of few incidents of vandalism, and most people honor the spirit of the project.
“I just feel for sure that this is going to spread,” Glasgow said, standing next to the box Wednesday. “I hear there’s one in South Frankfort, but I haven’t seen it yet.”
The possible location of that South Frankfort spot is still a mystery, but an online map shows Little Free Libraries in Gilbertsville and Owensboro in Western Kentucky, Cincinnati and across the river from Louisville in Jeffersonville, Ind.
It’s up to Little Free Library owners to register online for a $25 fee, and it can take a couple of weeks for a new site to appear on the map. So there could be tiny libraries in other locations around Kentucky too.
Glasgow hopes Little Free Libraries pop up all around town, perhaps at schools, churches, nonprofit groups and community centers.
So far, the response from passersby has varied, Glasgow said.
Some are a bit confused by the library, and they open the gallery door to ask for a tutorial. Others are thrilled when they find just the book they were looking for, but some seem downright timid to take a book without paying for it.
Don’t be shy, Glasgow says – the books really are free. Take your pick, but please, add one to the shelf too.