Starting in spring 2013, Charles Village residents might be seeing five boxes that look like oversized birdhouses in public places.
But the boxes aren't for the birds — and neither is a global project to promote reading and literacy by filling the boxes with free books and letting people take them out or put other books inside.
The project, called Little Free Libraries, is an initiative gathering strength locally, nationally and internationally, "to promote literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide," according to the website, http://www.littlefreelibrary.org. Organizers say they hope to build more than 2,500 tiny libraries worldwide, "more than Andrew Carnegie — and then more," the website states.
But the project is also about building community, said Lindsey Henley, volunteer and community relations coordinator for the Village Learning Place in Charles Village, a community-run library and after-school tutoring center that is participating in the project and is already getting calls from people who want to volunteer.
"We're promoting literacy but we're also promoting community. It really is a reflection of the community," Henley said Thursday, Oct. 18.
About 2 feet tall and 18 inches deep, the first five little free libraries will be made of wood with shelves and a latched door and will be painted in Village Learning Place colors, bright blue and green, Henley said. They will be unveiled probably in March at the center's library, 2521 St. Paul St., she said.
A second batch of five little free libraries will be painted by local artists and auctioned off at Village Learning Place's annual fundraiser, Read Between the Wines, which this year is April 13, and is timed to coincide with the end of National Library Week.
A prototype box made by Village Learning Place volunteer Rich Walther, of Charles Village, has been placed near the circulation desk and is already drawing interest from children in the after-school programs at the center, Henley said.
Village Learning Place is getting behind the project in a big way, with a $7,000 budget, and is studying ways to weatherize the boxes and safeguard them from theft, Henley said — though she asks, "Why would you steal anything when we're giving (books) away."
Library officials are also looking at potential sites for the boxes. One is expected to be placed in the St. Mark's Evangelical Lutheran Church co-op garden at 21st and St. Paul streets, Henley said. But the other potential sites aren't determined yet, said Lesley Noll, library services coordinator for Village Learning Place.
"We're still trying to narrow it down," she said, adding that a lot would depend on where Baltimore City would allow them to put the boxes and whether permits would be needed.
Eventually, Village Learning Place would like to hold workshops where people can learn to build the boxes themselves, Henley said.
As officials envision it here, people could take books out of the box, bring new ones to put in, or trade books on the spot. The project conducted dry-runs at the recent Abell Street Fair and Baltimore Book Festival. At the book fest, festival-goers already carrying books trade some of their for some of the ones in the box.
"Which is exactly the way we wanted it to work," Henley said.