Little library stewards see patterns and find surprises

click to enlarge Julene Ewert visits her Little Free Library on Polk Street in Moscow. - PHOTO/TARA ROBERTS
Photo/Tara Roberts
Julene Ewert visits her Little Free Library on Polk Street in Moscow.

By Tara Roberts

In Julene Ewert’s Little Free Library along Polk Street in Moscow, the childrens’ books always go quickly. Romance novels, too.

It’s the same story over by the bus shelter along Sixth Street, in the Little Free Library maintained by Serendel MacPhereson.

When it comes down to it, not much stays in a Little Free Library for long -- but the shelves tend to stay stocked.

“For the most part, when I drive by, it seems like there’s stuff in there,” MacPhereson said.

Ewert built Moscow’s first registered Little Free Library in 2013, after spotting them in Portland. Since then, they’ve sprouted up across the city, especially in the neighborhoods around East City Park. MacPhereson built hers in 2014.

Stewards get the ball rolling and keep the libraries maintained, but the libraries’ personalities are built by the community members who take and leave books.

click to enlarge A Little Free Library along Sixth Street in Moscow.
A Little Free Library along Sixth Street in Moscow.

Ewert has never purchased a book specifically for her library, but puts in pretty much everything she, her husband or her son reads after they’re through. Their tastes are broad, but since Ewert’s an artist, she often contributes art books and has even left small art pieces.

MacPhereson, who has moved out of her library’s neighborhood, still likes to fill it with favorite titles she buys at book sales, such as classic “Sesame Street” books, the Harry Potter series and “young-women-empowering, coming-of-age books.”

As far as community contributions, Ewert and MacPhereson have noticed regular patterns in their libraries and others around town. People leave more than books. Ewert has found CDs, toy cars and brochures from the Latah County Library. MacPhereson’s favorite treasure was a little bottle with an inspirational note in it.

In the early days of library stewardship, MacPhereson tried to keep religious and political texts out of her library, but eventually accepted them as part of the regular flow of materials. Ewert also has noticed regular donations of religious literature, as well as pocket-sized Constitutions and other political books.

The only books that don’t seem to get swept up are those that are in rough shape: waterlogged, dingy or smelly, “like really beat up, ancient encyclopedias or something,” MacPhereson said.

Magazines rise and fall in popularity, Ewert said, but books almost always find a taker. If a book has sat for a while, Ewert has a strategy.

“Sometimes I just rearrange,” she said. “It’s like the grocery store. You move things forward so people can see them.”

Other times she’ll take books to other Little Free Libraries in the neighborhood if they’re looking empty and lonely.

MacPhereson appreciates that even though she checks on her library infrequently, the community of book lovers keeps it alive.

“It’s kind of like a movement, I think,” she said. “It’s a push toward community and education and just general friendliness and sharing. I think it really does make people feel closer to their neighbors, because they’re sharing something they care about.”

Roberts is a writer and mom who lives in Moscow. In the course of writing this story, she inherited the Little Free Library by the bus stop on Sixth.

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