CARL JUNCTION, Mo. —
Before she even opened its glass-fronted door, Vicki Mays thought she saw an empty space inside the city’s new Little Free Library.
“That’s OK,” she said, returning to her car. “I carry boxes of books and CDs just in case.”
Mays serves as Carl Junction’s unofficial librarian — a steward, she calls herself — of what has become a growing trend around the world.
The Little Free Library movement began in 2010 with Todd Bol, a hobby carpenter who mounted a wooden box designed to look like a one-room schoolhouse on a post in front of his Hudson, Wis., home.
“I built it as a library to honor my mom, who had a wonderful, great spirit,” Bol said in an interview earlier this fall. “I felt it would be great for the neighborhood. People were just delighted by it as they walked by.”
It quickly took off with a life of its own that Bol never imagined. Today there are about 10,000 Little Free Libraries across the U.S. and around the world, including Holland, Italy and Ghana.
The Little Free Libraries are basically boxes that are placed in front of private homes, in front of businesses or in public places. The basic idea is for passers-by to take a book and leave a book.
In this area, there is one at Community of Christ Church, 1212 Goetz Blvd. in Joplin, under the stewardship of Terry McDermid, and one at 3402 S. Finley Ave. in Joplin, under the stewardship of Daria Claiborne.
There’s one in front of a private residence at 1506 Chouteau Ave. in Baxter Springs, Kan., and one in front of Carthage Middle School under the direction of the student-run Carthage Service Club.
As the most recently installed, the one in Carl Junction is outside the Community Center at 303 N. Main St. Mays won it in a reader contest sponsored by the Globe; Bol provided it free of charge.
Like Bol, Mays dedicated the library to the memory of her mother, Joplin native Kay Buckingham White, an avid reader who instilled the love of books in Mays. She died on Christmas five years ago while reading a book; she was 88.
“She would have loved this, loved the idea of it,” Mays said.
Little Free Libraries are easily located on a worldwide map operated by Bol’s foundation through Google. Flags on sites with libraries provide exact addresses, while photographs of the libraries hint at the personalities of the owners or creators. Carl Junction’s should be added to the map in coming weeks.
Mays said she can’t tell what the most popular item is in the Little Free Library, be it children’s books, audiobooks, mysteries, romances or nonfiction.
“Everything I put in there goes,” she said as she added more titles.
“The CDs are really going — and that’s good! Listen to the music, people,” Mays said with a laugh. She is a retired music teacher and the director of the Heartland Concert Band.
Mays said word of her new responsibility as head of the little library has gotten out, and people now seek her out to donate books they no longer need or want.
“Look at this: We have Roy Rogers and Dale Evans ‘Happy Trails,’ we have Danielle Steel, we have cookbooks,” she said as she arranged the library’s contents in an effort to squeeze in more. “And there are titles in there I know I didn’t put in, so people are giving as well as taking.”
Mays said it took users a little time to adjust to the notion that they may take something and not leave anything — not even a library card.
“A lot of people asked, ‘Where do I sign?’” she said. “You don’t! That’s the good thing!”
Carl Junction resident Cheryl Hume said she appreciates both the proximity of the library and being able to read a book and not feel pressured to get it done and returned in two weeks.
“I love it! I just love the idea of it, and there has really been a variety of stuff that’s gone in there,” Hume said. “And it’s nice not to have the pressure of having to read a book and return it in two weeks.
“I think it’s getting good use. Every time you go, there’s something new. I’ve been surprised at how much use it’s gotten, and it’s only been a few weeks.”
CARL JUNCTION likely will get another Little Free Library in coming months. The Carl Junction Leo Club is working on getting one installed near Randy’s Drive-In.