TRAVERSE CITY — Becky Mang volunteered at the local elementary school library when her children were little and took the job to heart.
"I always thought of myself as a secret librarian. Now I'm a real librarian," said Mang, the new "steward," along with her husband, Homer Nye, of northern Michigan's first registered Little Free Library.
The library, a dollhouse-sized structure that holds about 20 books, is mounted on a post in the retired couple's front yard at the corner of Spruce and Sixth streets. It invites neighbors, friends and visitors to "take a book, leave a book" and share the joy of reading.
The Kids Creek Little Free Library is sponsored by the Traverse Area District Library with the goal of promoting literacy while creating a sense of community, said TADL marketing and communications manager Kristen Talaga. It's part of a small, but growing national movement to build the libraries in yards and public spaces all over the world.
Mang and Nye's Kids Creek Commons Neighborhood was chosen as the pilot site for the TADL project because of its active association, intergenerational makeup and three school bus stops, Talaga said. It will be dedicated at a neighborhood ceremony and meeting beginning at 1 p.m. today.
"We needed a group that would be invested in it," said Talaga, who spearheaded the project along with TADL Assistant Director of Technology Scott Morey. "When we spoke at the neighborhood meeting, they were all over it."
Nye, neighborhood association president, said the little library is an educational opportunity that will also build community and identity for the westside neighborhood, already known for its spring cookouts, block parties and progressive dinners.
"One of the important things for a neigborhood is to become a community, and a good way to become a community is to have a little library that brings people together," he said.
The cedar-sided and -shingled library was built by Jon Patt, a TADL information technology employee and experienced builder. It includes soffeting, a tempered glass door and a ridge vent to prevent fog and mold. A Plexiglas box on the side will hold fact sheets about the project.
"I wanted it to look like a cedar home so I just did it from scratch," said Patt, who volunteered his time on the project. "I knew it was going to be the first one out there so I wanted it to look decent."
An accompanying bench crafted from salvaged wood was decorated by neighborhood children. Mang said getting kids involved will give them "ownership" of the library, which is expected to circulate children's and young adult selections at times. TADL donated the starter collection of books, after which the library is expected to be self-generating, she said.
The Little Free Library project was founded by Hudson, Wis., natives Todd Bol and Rick Brooks in 2009 in memory of Bol's mother, a former teacher and book lover. Built to look like a one-room schoolhouse, it inspired others to create the libraries in more than 40 states and 20 countries.
Some resemble homes, others barns, cottages, cabins, Quonset huts and even fish shanties.
Amy Daniels Moehle and family are creating their own, unregistered, little free library out of recycled materials from Odom Re-Use. They call the Greek-inspired structure a "Little Athenæum."
"We've played around with the idea for years because people come on vacation here, and when you come on vacation you like to read," said Daniels Moehle, who lives on Turtle Lake in Benzie County's Inland Township.
The family is founder of the Books for Walls Project, an online community of avid readers and real literacy and library support volunteers. The little athenaeum will be mounted on the outside of the Moehles' privacy fence and will contain the favorite books of all its members, from David, a third-generation electrician and woodworker, to daughters Nadia, 11, and Sonja, 8.
"If we have a good book we'll post on the Books for Walls site that it will be in the free library," Daniels Moehle said.
The family also is building a little free library for friend Gary Howe, in exchange for his photography services. The structure will mirror Howe's home in Traverse City's Traverse Heights neighborhood down to the big front porch, Daniels Moehle said.
Howe said the library will be just inside his fence or near his porch and likely will lean toward fiction and gardening books.
"I'm a pickup (site) for community supported agriculture, so I have a flow of people that come to pick up their vegetables," he said.
Talaga said TADL hopes the Kids Creek Little Library will encourage others in the community to "create their own, get inspired, reuse materials."
"It's not a new idea, but it's a great idea and we are so pumped to bring it to our community," she said.