'Little Library' Movement Comes To Chatham

By: Alan Pollock

The Enlow Free Library was founded by summer resident Susan Enlow.  ALAN POLLOCK PHOTO

CHATHAM – On a recent sunny morning, Harwich summer resident Deborah Cline was walking the loop in Chatham with her husband when she spotted a structure that resembles, from certain angles, a big bird house on a white post on the corner of Main and Water Streets.

Intrigued, Cline paused to examine Enlow Free Library, two shelves of free books that tantalize from behind a glass door. Intrigued, Cline pulled out some novels to read the blurbs.

“I’m a voracious reader,” she says. “And I was out of library books that I brought from Connecticut.”

Enlow Free Library is one of two Little Free Libraries in Chatham. The other is exactly five miles away, in South Chatham. The free libraries are creating a lot of goodwill between avid readers and the two women – coincidentally both nurses – who tend the libraries.

Little Free Library is an idea that began in 2009 when a Wisconsin man memorialized his late mother, a teacher who loved to read. Todd Bol built a small model of a one-room school house, planted it out on his front lawn, filled it with books, and added a sign: Free Books. From that modest beginning a movement took off to promote literacy, the love of reading and a sense of community through free book exchanges. Worldwide, as of June, there are over 40,000 Little Free Libraries, with nine on Cape Cod, according to the website’s map. (Enlow Free Library applied last week for its charter and will soon join the others on the map.)

“I always had an interest in the Little Free Libraries,” says Chatham summer resident Susan Enlow. Enlow, who lives in Springfield, Ill. in the off-season, first saw one when visiting her children in Oak Park, Ill.

So last May Enlow, who describes herself, like her patron Cline, as an “avid reader,” asked Jim Gable of Gable Building Corporation in Chatham to create a Little Free Library out of recycled materials. As inspiration, she loaned Gable the 2015 “The Little Free Library Book” by Margret Aldrich which includes plans for building your own Little Free Library.

“I had some antique shutters that I saved from an Old Village house that I renovated some years ago,” Gable says. He incorporated those shutters into a design that resembles a Cape Cod shingled building. The result is the charming Enlow Free Library, with its red-trimmed door. The Enlow Free Library opened just before the Fourth of July weekend, and this morning the library holds a selection of 26 books ranging from a Patricia Cornwell to a biography of Colin Powell.

“We can see the library from our kitchen,” Enlow says. “The number of people who stop is fascinating. I had no idea it would be that kind of a draw.” While she worked for two summers at Where the Sidewalk Ends Bookstore on Main Street, Enlow now enjoys tending this free book distribution center where people leave as many books as they take. She says, too, it is good for her three young grandsons to see how popular the booth is with readers.

“It was fun and it was painless and it was something on my bucket list,” Enlow says about her Little Free Library.

Five miles away, at 146 Stage Coach Dr. in South Chatham, Janet Swanson established the town’s first registered Little Free Library last October.

“For walkers, it’s great. We do have people come around the loop,” Swanson says, referring to Stage Coach Drive, which is a circle. “Kids come on their bikes.”

Swanson has expanded her library to include a comfortable wooden chair and two whimsical toadstools. Below the Little Free Library is a plastic box labeled, “Leave a Book Ages 0 to 150.”

Swanson is, like most people connected with this movement, a bibliophile. Her main interest is mysteries and she tries to keep her library stocked with Nancy Drews and Hardy Boys for children. Her theory is that if a child (or adult) reads one book by an author that he or she likes, he or she will seek out more books by that author at a local library or bookstore.

Swanson stamps her books with the Little Free Library stamps that reads “Always A Gift, Never For Sale.” This stamp cues everyone that the book you just enjoyed should be passed along to another reader.

While you can design and build your own Little Free Library, the group’s website offers pre-made libraries ranging in price from $165 for an unpainted model called “Essential” up to a $500 limited edition replica of the one-room schoolhouse which was the first Little Free Library. The $275 “Amish Two Story” is a bestseller with two shelves.

Swanson kept her Little Free Library up and running during the winter, shoveling a path around it after snowstorms. The library is lighted at night, and even has a feature for dogwalkers—a low dog hook. She plans soon to erect a second library made from material she picked up at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Yarmouth. This one will look like a lighthouse.

“People are really getting into it,” Swanson says.

For more information on Little Free Libraries visit littlefreelibrary.org.