published Thursday, November 14th, 2013

Chattanooga neighborhoods getting free micro-libraries

  • photo
    Trevor Slayton says the Little Free Libraries are designed for people to share books.
    Photo by Tim Barber.
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LITTLE FREE LIBRARIES

Chattanooga-Hamilton Regional Planning Agency technician Trevor Slayton has spearheaded a move to bring official Little Free Library book echanges to the following locations:

1. Southeast corner of Curve Street and Dallas Road.

2. Riverview Grande Apartments (700 Mansion Circle).

3. Southeast corner of Dorchester Road and Hixson Pike.

4. North Chattanooga Recreation Center (364 May St.).

READ20 NEIGHBORHOOD LIBRARIES

Hamilton County youth literacy program Read20 has partnered with area architects to build and design new neighborhood libraries that will be posted by Christmas in the following locations:

1. Homeless Health Care Clinic (717 E. 11th St.). Designer: Artech Design

2. Chattanooga Room In the Inn (230 N. Highland Park Ave.). Designer: Neuhoff Taylor Architects

3. Enterprise South Park Visitors Center (8015 Volkswagen Drive). Designer: TWH Architects

4. Hamilton County Child Support Office (1600 E. Third St.). Designer: Hamilton County Engineering Deptartment.

5. The Hair Lounge (1478 Market St.). Designer: Franklin Architects.

6. The Hart Gallery (110 E. Main St.). Designer: Method Architects

7. Dodson Avenue Community Health Center (1200 Dodson Ave.). Designer: Tim Burney Architect.

As a teenager growing up in North Chattanooga, Trevor Slayton shared his walks home from school with a veritable who’s who of literary characters, from Jean Valjean and the Pevensie children to Holden Caufield and Ender Wiggin.

Now 26, Slayton says he wants to encourage others to follow in his footsteps as a literary pedestrian by spearheading the installation of four community book exchanges in North Chattanooga neighborhoods. He just hopes the reading doesn’t stop at the threshold.

“I’m thinking if you get someone when they’re walking home and start reading a book, they’re more likely to keep reading it when they get home,” Slayton says. “If you place a little library on a street corner, people see it all the time. They can’t help but see it. I think they’ll be more inclined to stop and say, ‘What’s this all about?’ and pick out a book.”

The concept is based on Little Free Library, a Wisconsin-based nonprofit that started in 2009, igniting a craze for community micro-libraries that spawned more than 5,000 book exchanges throughout the nation. Earlier this year, the program’s co-founders, Todd Bol and Rick Brooks, were included on Library Journal’s annual list of Movers & Shakers.

The designs for Slayton’s libraries here are based on those in Kalamazoo, Mich. They look like large birdhouses with glass doors and are mounted on chest-high poles in areas with heavy pedestrian traffic. Each can hold up to 40 books, which anyone can borrow or add to from their own collection via an honor system of exchanges — no library card required.

The first exchange was installed last week near Slayton’s own neighborhood at the corner of Curve Street and Dallas Road between Center for Creative Arts and Normal Park Museum Magnet School. To stock it, Slayton went on a “hog wild” shopping spree at McKay’s Used Books & CDs, where he picked up popular series such as “Twilight” and “Harry Potter” as well as a slew of Newbery Award-winning novels, including “Bridge to Terabithia” and “Bud, Not Buddy.”

A second little library will be installed Nov. 21 in the shopping center at the intersection of Hixson Pike and Dorchester Road, he says, while the final two should be circulating by the end of the year.

In the same timeframe, Hamilton County childhood literacy program Read20 will post seven book respositories of its own in neighborhoods it deems to be at-risk.

Although both Slayton and Read20 are both aiming to increase readership, the distinction between the Read20 libraries and Slayton’s is that the county doesn’t expect the books to be returned. In fact, they prefer that they aren’t, says program manager Shula Yelliott.

“Our whole bottom line is that those kids can’t purchase books and can’t afford to pay $50 for a library card if they don’t live in city limits, so they can’t check them out,” she says. “We want to make books available for those children to have in their home to keep. We don’t expect those books back.”

Despite the differences in their outreach, Yelliott says Read20 fully supports Slayton’s efforts in North Chattanooga and will be helping to keep the little library stocked at the North Chattanooga Recreation Center. Seed collections for the other exchanges are being provided by Friends of the Library and those living near the installation sites.

In addition to inspiring others to become habitual readers, the little libraries are equally important at strengthening and bringing together a community, whose tastes and interests ultimately will be reflected in the books that are available, Slayton says.

“Whenever anybody asks me what books they should donate, I tell them to donate whatever books have helped them grow in their imagination or their spirituality or that has kept them company when they’re lonely — a book that has really meant something to them,” he says. “Eventually, all sense of a theme will disappear.”

Slayton’s exchanges each cost about $100 to build and $30 to paint. Home Depot has donated the construction materials and is installing them. Seven local architectural firms volunteered their time to designing and building Read20’s libraries, which will be shown off during the morning parade as part of the Mainx24 celebration on Dec. 7. All seven should be in place by Christmas.

Hopefully, other locations will follow, Yelliott says.

“We … hope this catches on like a bad case of the measles and people say, ‘This is the coolest thing. I want one of these in my neighborhoods,’” she says. “That’s exactly what they should do.”

The future success of little libraries in Chattanooga will depend on how the public reacts to the nontraditional approach to encouraging communities to read. Even as a gung-ho proponent of the program, Slayton says it was a nerve-wracking moment when the first exchange was installed.

“It’s based on … the concept that you can’t steal something that’s free,” he says. “Posting the first one last night, it was scary because everyone is thinking, ‘What if someone comes and takes the books?’ and then we all say, ‘Oh, well, that’s the point: to share books.’”

Contact Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP. com

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...

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