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Westminster opens first Little Free Library near Belle Grove Square

If you've walked past St. Paul's United Church of Christ on Green Street in Westminster lately, you might have noticed what looks like a large burgundy birdhouse, just off the sidewalk. Look a bit closer, though, and you'll see it has a large glass pane in the door — the better to show off the books on the shelves within. A little sign suggests you take a book, or perhaps leave one.

This is Westminster's first Little Free Library, one of more than 30,000 such tiny libraries across the world that are something like a cross between a bookmobile and a take a penny, leave a penny. People can stop by, read a book and put it back; stock it with books they are no longer reading; or take a book home and treasure it forever.

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An official ribbon-cutting ceremony to open the little library will take place on the sidewalk beside St. Paul's at 5:30 p.m. Friday, according to Erin Snell, a St. Paul's member involved in the planning who said anyone is welcome to come check it out.

"Folks in the Westminster area should come, especially in the neighborhood, and anybody that is interested in the idea and wants to see what it's like to have a Little Free Library," Snell said. "We will set up some chairs and a table with cookies and refreshments, and there will be bubbles for the grand ribbon cutting."

St. Paul's is just one partner that made the library possible. The idea originated with Kristen Bodvin, a programming specialist at the Carroll County Public Library. She said the library had a surplus of books no longer in circulation that were not selling at their book sales and, at the same time, there were many people in the Westminster community who might not have easy access to books through a regular library branch.

"I kind of tossed some ideas around in my head and came across some Little Free Libraries on different websites and things, and it just kind of all clicked together," Bodvin said. "I was like, yeah, the perfect solution! We can put these books that are still in good condition into the hands of the community."

The Carroll County Public Library stocked the Little Free Library initially, Bodvin said, but organizers hope that some people will decide to share an old book or two they have enjoyed and would like to pass on to others. At the same time, she said, it's perfectly all right if the little book exchange becomes depleted.

"I'm always getting new books to put inside," Bodvin said. "I don't see that dwindling at any time."

The Little Free Library is an initiative of the Carroll public library system, but it could not have come about without a partnership with others, the first of which was with St. Paul's, which volunteered the location.

"As part of the church at St. Paul's, I thought it would be a perfect spot since it is along the park [at Belle Grove Square], the family shelter is nearby and the church has a lot of activities going on," Snell said. "I presented it to the church and they said, 'absolutely, let's do that.'"

From there, Snell said, another St. Paul's member stepped forward to construct the little library. Mitchell DeVault-Edmondson, who works in home restoration, had the tools and materials to construct the birdhouse-like structure, with help from his son Michael.

"A lot of the spirit behind the Little Free Library is recycling and using restored materials," DeVault-Edmondson said. "Almost everything on the Little Free Library are scraps from things I had left over from other projects, material that would have been thrown away."

DeVault-Edmondson also installed paving stones and a reading bench, while his son and other youth members of St. Paul's First Fridays group — a monthly meeting and hangout space for LGBTQ youth — built and decorated actual birdhouses to hang next to the larger Little Free Library.

It took DeVault-Edmonson about four weeks to build and install the library structure, and in the two weeks or so since it was finished, he said, he was been able to see people's reactions to it from his home that sits barely 100 feet away.

"I see people over there … questioning what it is, and I think some people are surprised that there is this little structure where you can walk right up and take a book," DeVault-Edmondson said. "The Carroll County family shelter is here behind my house and there are always a lot of kids there, so it is nice to have this Little Free Library right here and so close where they can just walk over."

The shelter, Bodvin said, is one reason the neighborhood seemed like such an ideal fit for a Little Free Library — a community where some families might not be able to check out books from the Westminster branch of the Carroll County Public Library.

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"Anyone that is in the shelter, they do not have a firm address, so they cannot get a library card," she said. "It will definitely benefit them."

Westminster's Little Free Library can also be searched for and found on a map on www.littlefreelibrary.org, thanks to a $40 donation by the Carroll County Early Childhood Consortium, according to Bodvin, joining an existing Little Free Library in Finksburg. That Little Free Library, Bodvin said, is not connected with Carroll County Public Library.

There are, however, plans to expand the Little Free Library initiative. A second library is planned for outside the nonprofit building on Clifton Boulevard in Westminster, and is being built as part of a Boy Scout's Eagle Scout project, according to Bodvin, while a third little library will eventually grace the outside of the Westminster Family Center on Longwell Avenue.

And after those three? Bodvin sees no reason not to build more. After all, there are plenty of books.

"We are hoping that after these three go up to build even more spread out across the county," she said. "I'm talking to someone now about a fourth one somewhere between Manchester and Hampstead. Hopefully it's a project that grows and grows."

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If you go:

What: Grand ribbon cutting for Westminster's first Little Free Library

When: 5:30 p.m.-6:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 4, with ribbon-cutting ceremony at 6 p.m.

Where: St. Paul's United Church of Christ, 17 Bond St., Westminster. Little Free Library is on the Green Street side of the church, across the street from Belle Grove Square.

Cost: Free. Take a book, leave a book or just read a book.

For more information on the ribbon-cutting ceremony, contact Erin Snell at 443-244-0636 or snell_erin@hotmail.com.

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For more information on Little Free Libraries, go to www.littlefreelibrary.org.

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