Idea to turn old newspaper boxes into free libraries grows

Kokomo Tribune

    KOKOMO, Ind. (AP) — Michelle Herr was cleaning out her attic last year when she came across boxes and boxes of old children's books that she had stored away and forgotten about.
    There were way too many books for her to keep, but she didn't know what to do with them.
    Then, Herr remembered something.
    "I had heard about these little free libraries, and I thought that was a really good idea," she said.
    Little free libraries have been around for more than a decade. They consist of small containers or boxes stocked with books that are free for anyone to take in exchange for another book. Today, there are more than 90,000 little libraries in 91 countries.
    And Herr, who owns and manages Banner Flower House, wanted to put one more out in Kokomo to house her used children's books.
    "Our neighborhood has a lot of kids, and it's hard sometimes for them to get somewhere to get a book," she said. "I thought we'd just put one here at the flower shop. But it ended up being way bigger than that."
    In fact, what started out as a plan to build just on free library has now morphed into a citywide project that could see more than 20 of the book exchanges hit the streets in the coming months.
    The project got its jumpstart after Herr called the Kokomo Tribune to see if the company had any unused newspaper boxes she could use to convert into a little library.
    "I thought that was a really good idea, because these boxes are already made for paper products to be stored inside," Herr said.
    She called the Tribune to see if there was one she could take. The company ended up donating 20 that were no longer in use.
    Today, three of those boxes have already been converted into little free libraries. There's one outside Banner Flowers at 1017 S. Buckeye Street. Another is in front of the Kokomo Humane Society. And on Monday, Herr's husband dropped off a box at Waddell's IGA grocery store in Russiaville.
    And each box is painted and decorated with a unique theme. The one at the humane society has, appropriately, a puppy dog on the side with paws painted on the front. The flower house box has kids on the side. One is riding a bike.
    Now, three more little free libraries are in the works and set to be placed somewhere around the county or area in the near future.
    Herr said her neighbors are making a fish-themed one that will be placed in Scircleville in Clinton County. Her aunt and uncle are painting a box to be used in a small park south of Russiaville. And an employee at Banner is painting a flower-themed box to be placed at a yet-to-be-determined location in Kokomo.
    Herr said she also knows the Kokomo Farmers Market plans to get one to house cookbooks, and a local gaming store wants to place a box outside their shop to house a game exchange.
    And those are all just the beginning.
    Herr has partnered with SHAK Makerspace in Kokomo, which now has 10 boxes available for people to reserve to paint and decorate.
    Susan Alexander, the downtown facilitator for the Greater Kokomo Economic Development Alliance, and a SHAK board member, said for $100, people can get a box and a two-month membership to the makerspace. That will give them access to all the tools and supplies they need to make their little library. When they're done, they can place their box anywhere they'd like.
    "The beauty of these newspaper boxes is that they're already 75% finished when you get them," Alexander said.     "It's really a great reuse project. You don't have to start from scratch. You've already got a great, weather-proof container that was designed just for this thing."
    SHAK is currently closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, but people can reserve their box now and start working on it once the makerspace reopens. To reserve one, email or call 765-865-8701 and leave a message.
    SHAK also plans to put its own little free library outside its building at 210 W. Monroe St. to house how-to or DIY books.
    "We love this project," Alexander said. "We're all really excited about it, and we're looking forward to when we can all get back together and make things."
    Banner Flower House converted old newspaper boxes into little free libraries. This one was placed outside of Waddell's in Russiaville on Monday.
    Herr said in a way, the project has come at the perfect time. With three libraries already on the street, and a few more in the works, the boxes are a way for kids and families to access books during the state's stay-at-home order that has forced the Kokomo-Howard County Public Library branches to close.
    "Now, with COVID-19 going on, we all seem to have a little more free time," she said. "And with it being harder to buy books or crafts of other things, we thought, 'Man, we need to get a move on to get these out into the public.'"
    And once all the little libraries are finished, the city will have more access to free books than they've ever had before, Alexander said.
    "The more words you can put in front of people, the more reading that takes place, the more innovation will happen and the more good things will happen in our community," Alexander said. "We want to make books accessible and show that we support reading."
    Herr agreed. She said it's been amazing to watch her idea take root, and see the community jump on board to spread literacy and reading around the city.
    "It's exciting to see everyone get involved in this," Herr said. "The cool thing about these is you don't know who you're going to touch at just the right time. Maybe it was all supposed to happen like this. The timing is right."