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The Word on the Street

News about New England authors and books

Laura Roberts

The little library that could

About a block from the Cambridge Public Library, its Lilliputian cousin is perched atop a post on the sidewalk. At this Little Free Library, open since mid-October, there are no due dates, late fees, or library cards. Made out of recycled wood, it consists of a single shelf that holds about 20 books.

The library’s founders are Laura Roberts and Ed Belove who put it in front of their house at 1715 Cambridge St. so they can keep an eye on it. “It’s as good a way as any to get rid of paperbacks we don’t need,” Roberts said.

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Sabrina Françon, a student at the nearby Harvard Graduate School of Design, sees the Little Free Library as an example of tactical urbanism, a trend she is studying. She wants to determine whether small playful citizen projects like the Little Free Library influence a neighborhood’s social capital.

Roberts has reported to her what she sees from her window. “People are stocking it. People are stopping and talking and taking pictures,” she said. She and her husband supplied the first few piles of books but now others are making donations. On a recent day, “The Old Man and the Sea” by Ernest Hemingway stood next to “Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim” by David Sedaris.

Roberts estimates that 75 books have been taken out of the little library during its first six weeks in operation. “Children’s books seem to go immediately,” she said. Fiction is popular, too. The bestselling “Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” set a record — in and out in less than two hours. A guide to playing the harmonica was on the shelf for a couple days, but a second book on the subject went more quickly.

The little library had its origins on Facebook. A friend of Roberts posted a message about Little Free Library, a nonprofit that started in Wisconsin three years ago. Founder Todd Bol built the first library in tribute to his late mother, a book lover. His goal was to top the 2,509 libraries, launched by Andrew Carnegie a century ago. Already there are more than 3,000 free libraries in 30 countries and in every state in the nation, including 11 in Massachusetts. (There’s a map at www.littlefreelibrary.org/)

Little Free Library asks for a $34.95 donation to register each library. It sells several models of libraries and provides plans for folks who want to build their own.

Roberts and Belove are longtime members of Friends of the Cambridge Public Library. The opening of their own little library is no commentary on its grander relation. “Libraries big and small,” Roberts said. “We love them all.”

Coming out

 “The Wisdom and Teachings of Stephen R. Covey” by Stephen R. Covey (Free Press)

 “Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet” by Julian Assange (OR)

 “To Russia with Love: An Alaskan’s Journey” by Victor Fischer and Charles Wohlforth (University of Alaska)

Pick of the week

Rita Moran of Apple Valley Books in Winthrop, Maine, recommends “Hand for a Hand” by Frank Muir (Soho): “A dismembered hand is found on a golf course green with a note addressed to detective Andy Gilchrist consisting of just one word: ‘Murder.’ The investigation gets too close to home for him when family members become involved. Set in historic St. Andrews, Scotland, with dour characters and dreary weather, this first in a new series is a nail-biter until the last page.”

Jan Gardner can be reached at JanLGardner@yahoo.com. Follow her on Twitter @JanLGardner.
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