VALPARAISO | The city's newest library offers selections ranging from National Geographic to "Great Expectations," but it does have a fairly limited catalog. About 20 items.
The Little Free Library is next to the sidewalk on Park Avenue across from Benjamin Franklin Middle School, and the "librarian" is Mary Beth Witcher. The library was a recent surprise birthday gift from her husband John, who built it with the help of his friend Steve Holt. He heard about the Little Free Library on a National Public Radio station.
The Little Free Library phenomena was started by a Madison, Wis., man to honor his mother, a teacher and book lover who died about a decade ago. He built the first dollhouse-size library to look like an old red, one-room schoolhouse and placed it in front of his house with several books in it.
The concept is for people to borrow any book they are interested in reading and bring it back when they are done. People also are asked to donate any of their books to the library. There's no registration, library card or late fees involved. The idea has spread until there are Little Free Libraries in almost every state and several foreign countries.
Witcher's is officially registered as the 1,008th Little Free Library, and, so far, it is one of only two in the state. The littlefreelibrary.org Web site has plans for those like John with some skill with a hammer and nails or, for the unskilled or lazy, you can buy one ready made. Several designs are available or you can create your own.
Witcher, a nurse, put some of her books in the library and bought some bargain books from the Valparaiso Public Library. She said people have taken some out and put some in since it was put in the yard, and others are drawn to it out of curiosity.
"It's the kind of thing to get neighbors talking to each other," Mary Beth Witcher said. "Especially if people leave notes. I kind of encourage people to put a note in the books or leave notes in the margins telling about the books."
Although her library offers a little of everything from the classics like "Pride and Prejudice" to children's books, she said some people specialize with only children's books or cookbooks.
"When we were putting it up, some neighbors walked by the said 'What's this?' Kids see it and say 'Can we just take a book?' It's fun to come home and see what's been taken out and what's been put in."
She's still in the process of taking a picture of it to send to the Little Free Library Web site so it can appear on the Web site map.
"It's a great idea, and what a wonderful thing for the community," said neighbor Susan Livarchik.
It's certainly one for the books.