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One man's idea for a Little Free Library – using newspaper dispensers

a path to progress

Bob Shipley had been volunteering as a mentor in an adult literacy program, but he wanted to do more to encourage reading. The Albuquerque Journal helped him out.

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    Albuquerque, N.M., resident Bob Shipley got the idea to use old newspaper vending machines and turn them into Little Free Libraries.
    Roberto E. Rosales/The Albuquerque Journal/AP
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Bob Shipley dislikes illiteracy and enjoys re-purposing things. So, fashioning a couple of used newspaper vending machines into libraries seemed like a natural thing to do.

The now-retired educator, bicycle shop owner and engineer had been volunteering as a mentor in an adult literacy program, knowing that "reading proficiency in this state [New Mexico] is abominable," he said.

Wanting to do something else to combat the problem, he set up the Little Free Library stations in front of his home.

The idea behind the Little Free Library is pretty simple: Create some type of receptacle that can hold books and set it in a public place where people can grab a title with the understanding that they later return it or leave another book.

"And most people do just that, so it has become a self-perpetuating project," Shipley said.

Just off the sidewalk in front of his home, people can help themselves to the offerings in two separate library boxes. One box is lower to the ground and is for children's titles, such as "Real Tales of Real Dogs," ''The Secret of the Old Clock" and "Just Grace and the Snack Attack."

The other library box sits atop a platform that Shipley re-purposed from a bandsaw stand and bolted to the former newspaper box, reported the Albuquerque Journal. This library contains adult titles, such as "Pride and Prejudice," ''Selected Stories of O. Henry" and "Angela's Ashes."

In building his small, pitched-roof library, Shipley re-purposed floorboards, doors and siding from home improvement projects, as well as wood from a tree that had been cut down in Santa Fe, N.M. He then gave it a colorful coating of paint and large easy-to-read hand lettering.

"In neighborhoods where there are a lot of children, the turnover is really great," Shipley said. "We really don't have a lot of children in this neighborhood, but we do have a lot of grandmothers and grandfathers, so they swap out books for their grandkids. And we notice that new titles appear almost every day."

Neighbors on the block often peruse the adult library as they walk by or stop their car for a quick look.

Of course, some books don't see very much movement at all, and there's no point taking up valuable space, Shipley said. "Titles that are here a long time are removed and we donate them to a thrift store or one of the churches." He attempts to keep the library secular and discourages religious tracts.

Shipley had never heard of the Little Free Library movement until about four years ago when a cousin visiting from Colorado told him about one such library box that he had erected and how popular it had become.

"I looked it up online and, sure enough, the website has all this information," including video links on building libraries and different designs, Shipley said. "I was hooked."

He contacted the Journal with his idea about creating Little Free Library boxes from newspaper vending machines, which resulted in a donation of five machines. He converted two of them and gave the other three to people who wanted to create little libraries for their neighborhoods.

Next-door neighbor Diane Metzler and her husband frequently exchange books from Shipley's Little Free Library.

"At first, when Bob put the boxes up, the neighbors were wondering if it would attract weirdos and traffic," she confessed. "It hasn't. The people who get out of their cars to get a book are really nice. Bob's done a great thing. He has brought reading to the neighborhood."

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