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Strother: Little libraries belong to community

Dougherty School Board candidate brings national free book program to community

Victoria Walters opens the Birdhouse Books “Littlest Library on the Block” for her 2-year-old son Will during the grand opening of Melissa Strother’s little library at the junction of Fifth and Sixth Avenues and North Davis Street in Albany’s Rawson Circle neighborhood Friday. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher) Victoria Walters opens the Birdhouse Books “Littlest Library on the Block” for her 2-year-old son Will during the grand opening of Melissa Strother’s little library at the junction of Fifth and Sixth Avenues and North Davis Street in Albany’s Rawson Circle neighborhood Friday. (Herald staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)

Victoria Walters opens the Birdhouse Books “Littlest Library on the Block” for her 2-year-old son Will during the grand opening of Melissa Strother’s little library at the junction of Fifth and Sixth Avenues and North Davis Street in Albany’s Rawson Circle neighborhood Friday. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher) Victoria Walters opens the Birdhouse Books “Littlest Library on the Block” for her 2-year-old son Will during the grand opening of Melissa Strother’s little library at the junction of Fifth and Sixth Avenues and North Davis Street in Albany’s Rawson Circle neighborhood Friday. (Herald staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)

ALBANY — Shyly, 4-year-old Lucy Walters takes the book “I Love You Stinky Face” from Melissa Strother, officially becoming the first user of Strother’s “Littlest Library on the Block.”

If Strother realizes her dream, Lucy will be the first of many.

A small crowd of Strother’s friends, relatives, neighbors, city officials and well-wishers came to the “triangle” at the intersection of Fifth and Sixth Avenues and North Davis Street adjacent to Strother’s home in the Rawson Circle neighborhood Friday for the “grand opening” of her Birdhouse Books concept. Despite persistent heavy rains, those assembled lauded the concept that Strother hopes will lead to a reading renaissance in Albany.

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Dougherty School Board candidate Melissa Strother offers remarks during Friday’s “grand opening” of the “Littlest Library on the Block” concept from which citizens may freely take books to read. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher) Dougherty School Board candidate Melissa Strother offers remarks during Friday’s “grand opening” of the “Littlest Library on the Block” concept from which citizens may freely take books to read. (Herald staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)

“As many as 60 percent of the homes in our city do not have age-appropriate reading material,” Strother said in brief remarks. “My hope is that people — especially kids — will see these little libraries throughout the city and want to check them out.

“I hope it will become a habit for kids to say, ‘Let’s go see what’s in the little library today.’”

The concept for Littlest Library on the Block is a simple one: Individuals, organizations, businesses and other sponsors fix up an appropriate “library,” fill it with books and place it where readers have easy access. There are no charges, no registration, no rules for taking a book. Readers are asked, simply, to “take one now and leave one later.”

“This is really such a simple concept, but it has the potential to be huge for Albany,” said Ward III City Commissioner B.J. Fletcher, who with Ward II Commissioner Bobby Coleman attended Friday’s grand opening. “Literacy is a huge concern in our community, as it is with any community that has a high poverty rate. If this program can generate an interest in reading for kids, it will make a huge difference here.”

The concept of little libraries is growing rapidly nationwide, and Strother said it was sister-in-law Shelli Roberts who suggested Strother bring it to Albany.

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Jack Strother, 4, braves the rain Friday to help his mother Melissa collect books for the little library in front of their home in the city-owned “triangle” at the junction of Fifth and Sixth Avenues and North Davis Street. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher) Jack Strother, 4, braves the rain Friday to help his mother Melissa collect books for the little library in front of their home in the city-owned “triangle” at the junction of Fifth and Sixth Avenues and North Davis Street. (Herald staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)

“About a year and a half ago Shelli sent me a photo of one of the libraries in Atlanta and said, ‘This looks like something you’d get into,’” Strother said. “I immediately fell in love with the concept and thought it would be a great thing for Albany. Things kept coming up to distract me and I would put it out of my head for a bit, but I kept coming back to it. About three months ago I found this little box at a flea market in Sasser and said, ‘This would be perfect for a little library.’”

Strother’s dad, Richard Barnhill, and friend Matt Fuller put a roof on the small cabinet to give it a birdhouse appearance, and she painted and decorated it. Neighborhood friends Elyse and Stan Brown bought a bench to sit beside the little library, and the set-up was complete.

“First of all, I want to stress that this is not about me getting credit,” Strother said. “The more organic it can be, the better. My hope is that this is something the community will get excited about and take on. The primary goal is to increase literacy among Albany citizens, young and old.

“I’d like to see these little libraries in neighborhoods and at businesses throughout the city. It’s such a cool thing because people can help in so many ways. They can build the libraries, sponsor one, maintain one or donate books. It is an opportunity to change the way the community looks at books.”

Strother said since her Birdhouse Books library would be located on city property, she worked through Downtown Manager Aaron Blair to get permission to put it there.

“The only reason I didn’t put the little library in my front yard is that a lot of people might feel they are infringing on my property and that would keep them from getting a book,” Strother said. “I’d encourage anyone who’s thinking about putting one of the libraries on property that is not their own to make sure they have permission. The city was enthusiastic in supporting the idea when I went to them, but why wouldn’t they be?”

Strother said she’s already made a commitment to place little libraries at the Albany Civil Rights Institute, the new Senior Life Enrichment Center and in front of BJ’s restaurant.

“The response so far has been amazing,” she said. “I’ve already had a number of people contact me about putting a little library in their neighborhood or at their business. A Dougherty High School teacher (Christen Taylor) read about us on Facebook and invited me to come by the school. She introduced me to their media specialist (Dorinda Ouzts), who donated 60 or so books. I think everyone sees this as planting seeds that could grow into something really big for our community.

“Studies show that kids who are not reading on level by the end of the third grade are four times more likely to drop out of school. If you add a high poverty rate, like we have here in Dougherty County, the rate is 13 times more likely. If this program improves reading, we all benefit.”

While Strother said persons interested in locating a little library in their neighborhood or at their business had no obligation to contact her, she is available to offer advice. Interested persons may get in touch with her at (229) 886-4948 or online at albanylittlelibrary@gmail.com. Persons interested in having their library listed among the more than 6,000 registered nationally may do so by emailing littlelibraries.org. There is a $35 registration fee.

Strother is unfazed when asked if she’s concerned about vandalism or theft once the little libraries are available to the general public.

“If that happens, so what, we’ll put another one up,” she said. “I just don’t see that becoming a huge problem. Of the more than 6,000 little libraries located across the country, there have so far been only two reported cases of vandalism.

“The thing is, these little libraries do not belong to any individual, any organization or any business. They belong to the community. It’s free, and it does only good. Why would anyone want to vandalize or destroy something they own?”