When is a book more than just words on paper? When it is sitting in a Little Free Library.
The small, mailbox-sized libraries, which are informal community book exchanges curated by community members, have popped up in front yards and public spaces in every state and nearly two dozen countries.
Readers can take a book from the libraries with the understanding that they will either replace it with another or bring it back when finished.
Jerry Swan, resident psychologist at Hoggard Elementary School, 950 N. Tonopah Drive, set up four Little Free Libraries on campus. The libraries each have their own theme — award-winning books, best fiction of the 20th century and gardening — and are geared toward the downtown magnet school’s employees and students’ parents.
“The teachers have really embraced the libraries,” Swan said. “It has definitely fostered a closer relationship with the parents, too.”
Swan’s fourth library, which he refers to as the ready-to-read library, provides parents of preschoolers with literature designed to increase tykes’ vocabulary.
Swan’s libraries have lived up to the expectations of Little Free Library co-founder and executive director Todd Bol, who began the Hudson, Wis.-based nonprofit in 2009 in honor of his late mother.
The nonprofit aims to promote literacy and foster a love of reading within its neighborhood, he said.
“The libraries serve as comfortable, common ground for a neighborhood,” Bol said. “When you hand a book to a friend, you share a piece of yourself.”
The libraries and their books foster a social network based in reality, not the Internet, bringing neighbors face to face, he said.
“It’s hard to pass along passion with a website,” Bol said. “It’s not romantic to curl up with a Kindle.”
Only a few Little Free Libraries are listed in Nevada on the nonprofit’s website, littlefreelibrary.org, which features a world map of all the group’s libraries.
U.S. Air Force retiree and northwest Las Vegas resident Don Stormoen erected a Little Free Library in front of his house after reading about the organization on the Internet.
“It was like a light bulb went off,” he said. “I thought it was a terrific idea.”
Stormoen said he and his wife had been looking for something to do with all of the books they had piled up in their home office.
“We wanted to get rid of these spare books,” he said. “It’s nice to know someone is benefiting from them.”
The majority of his “customers” are mothers and their children, and even teenagers will occasionally pick up a book, Stormoen said.
He said he tries to keep the library stocked with a bit of everything: self-help books, Clive Cussler, a catch-all bathroom reader.
“It’s been emptied four or five times in the past year,” he said. “We never have a problem keeping it stocked. If you build it, there are plenty of books lying around.”
As co-founder of the organization, Bol said he has seen firsthand how a Little Free Library can transform a community.
“After I put up my first library, I met more people in a week than I had in 30 years,” he said with a laugh. “It becomes a sort of unorthodox town center. It shows just how much we all want to connect.”