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VPR's coverage of arts and culture in the region.

Take A Book, Leave A Book In Vermont's Tiniest Libraries

For many of us, summer is a time to kick back with a good book.  And in some neighborhoods, finding something new to read is as easy as strolling down the street. Little free libraries have been sprouting all over the world—including Vermont. Some are no bigger than a bird house. Others are as large as a phone booth. You leave a book, and take one—no card necessary.

On a warm summer morning, the birds are singing and the mailman is making his rounds on Boynton Avenue, a tree-lined street with spacious Victorian homes near downtown St. Johnsbury. Jim Herold sits on his front porch and peeks through shrubbery to see if anyone has stopped by the tiny free library he built underneath a curbside apple tree. With real shingles and a glass front, it’s a miniature version of his own blue and yellow turreted home, mounted on a pole.

“We called it the birdhouse, just for shorthand. ‘I gotta go work on the birdhouse,’ I’d say, but it’s fun and I think it will do the job,” Herold says.  

Credit Angela Evancie / VPR
A small collection of books awaits passersby on Monroe Street in Burlington.

The little book house was his wife Tracey’s idea, after she spied sidewalk libraries like this on a visit to Minneapolis. The Herolds have stocked theirs with used but newish hardbacks—fiction and non-fiction, for children and adults.

“It hopefully is also a bit of an attraction where people might run into each other and get to talking about the books they are reading or whatever,” Herold says.

With its quaint architecture, this library may seem unique, but actually it’s number 15,825 in a world-wide system. It all started in 2009, when a man in Wisconsin built a replica of a one-room school house in honor of his mother, a teacher, and filled it with free books for passersby. Now it’s an online organization.

“You get a number and a little packet comes and you have a stamp and some things and they invite you to have a party and open it and make it known, and so we did that actually this last Sunday,” Herold says.

The Herolds wanted to make sure their neighbors didn’t object to a little more foot traffic past the sidewalk library. So far, no one has, and the books are neatly stacked and ready to be exchanged.

Charlotte Albright lives in Lyndonville and currently works in the Office of Communication at Dartmouth College. She was a VPR reporter from 2012 - 2015, covering the Upper Valley and the Northeast Kingdom. Prior to that she freelanced for VPR for several years.
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