News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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October 1, 2012

MIKE LUNSFORD: A library is a good thing — even a little, homegrown one

I grew up with libraries, and I can’t imagine there ever being a time when I won’t want to wander one exploring it like some bookworm-Balboa, finding an author or title that I never really knew existed before. Creating those “Eureka” moments seems to be a dying interest now that so many of us download and digest books electronically without ever really considering that there just might be some hidden gem we’d have liked even more had we simply stumbled upon it on a shelf by accident. I think those moments of discovery are not unlike kicking up lost treasure a mile from where X marks the spot.

My wife feels the same way, and because we live near a little town, and in the end of a very rural county that has no public library within a decent drive, we already knew we wanted the children who are growing up around us to have access to books, as we so fortunately did when we were young.

We reasoned that the local elementary school library is always closed for the summer, its chairs stacked on their backs like dead crickets, its books gathering dust. So, last week, with the help of a few friends — one in particular — we planted a “Little Free Library” in the sandy soil of Rosedale proper, near the Dollar General Store. We hope it’s used year-round, though, for it’ll never really be closed.

Joanie and I first learned about the “Little Free Library” movement early last spring by watching television. The whole story reminds me of what Groucho Marx once said of TV: “I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.”

But in this case, we stayed in the room and watched, and what we saw inspired us to try to get others to read books.

Anyway, just before Groucho broke into my thoughts, I was about to say that we knew, even as the “NBC Nightly News” segment that we watched that night was still running, we wanted to make a nice rustic box, set it on a sturdy post in a place where kids would see it, fill it with books, then hope that the words and pictures inside magically disappeared, only to reappear a few days later. It will make us very happy if things go as planned.

As I often do with projects that involve saws and angles and wood, I turned to my friend, Joe Huxford, carpenter, digger of post holes and all-around good egg. When I told Joe what we wanted to do, he said he’d love to collaborate — he often works on my kooky ideas for no more than a trip to a decent restaurant — and almost immediately we were sending drawings and photos and building material ideas back and forth like a couple of eager kids trading baseball cards. I think I even passed along a few scribbled notions to him on the back of an envelope.

Before Joe could really start construction, however, his youngest son, Jeff, was seriously injured in an automobile accident. Knowing that a woodworking project undertaken on my own would end up better used as fireplace kindling come December, and that Joe’s cluttered workshop was to be closed and quiet for a while, I decided to wait. After a long, hot summer, Jeff recovered, and Joe resumed construction in August, quickly and efficiently and creatively completing the library well under budget. That is, since he used scraps of cedar and siding from his shop and my barn loft, the most expensive thing Joe invested in was a pair of bargain-table door hinges.

Oh, he tried to spend some money, but a few good people, who, once they heard what we were doing, decided to chip in too. First, the nice folks at Professional Glass in Clinton — who have expertly framed more than a few things for my walls — gave Joe the library’s front door glass. Later, Pastore Brothers Lumber, a rock’s throw down Ninth Street from PG, took the grand sum of a dollar for an aluminum starter strip that was needed for the library’s roof. Of course, the good people at the Dollar General were involved too; it took only two calls to their corporate office to get the permission we needed. Shannon and Denise and Kris, who pretty well run the place in town, all thought the library to be a grand idea too. “Our kids need to be reading books,” Denise told me as she rang up a customer the night we installed the library.

Repeated sprayings of whatever weather sealants Joe had left on his shelves, a bag of concrete and a heavy 6-inch-by-6-inch treated post that used to support my mom’s birdfeeder later, and our library was up and running in just a few hours. Joanie proudly polished the glass, then unloaded books just as the sun was setting. After all, she’s the librarian in the family.

While we were working that night, me arranging a few stones around the library’s base, Joanie working at the wiping and cleaning that leftover wood glue and sawdust require, two young boys on bicycles happened by the library. “What’s that?” one asked her. “It’s a library,” she said as he mumbled the words on the sign we had placed below the door. “Take a book; leave a book,” he read.

“Couldn’t somebody just steal the books,” he asked my wife.

“They could,” she told him, “But we hope they do the right thing and leave them for somebody who wants to read them.” She added, “Most often, I think people do the right thing.”

I agree with her about that, and I wholeheartedly believe one other line that we placed on our Little Library’s sign too. It reads: “A book is a gift you can open up again and again.”

Mike Lunsford can be reached by email at hickory913@aol.com, or c/o the Tribune-Star at PO Box 149, Terre Haute, IN 47808. Visit his website at www.mikelunsford.com.  

He’ll be speaking and signing his books at the Ashboro High School Reunion at the Center Point Community Center. If you want to learn more about Little Libraries, go to www.littlefreelibrary.org.

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