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OPELOUSAS, La. (AP) — Benjamin Franklin popularized the idea of the free public lending library during colonial times. Andrew Carnegie elevated it when he donated many millions from his fortune to the construction of public libraries throughout the country.
In places like Sunset, Grand Coteau and Cankton, people are downsizing the library to hold 30 books at a time.
Those towns have not gotten rid of their full-sized public libraries. They've added to those institutions with what they call "Little Free Libraries." The newest of them is the focus of a grand — OK, a little free — opening at 1 p.m. Tuesday outside Cankton Elementary School. The event will include book giveaways and balloons.
The Friends of the Library group that supports these book booths recognized an unmet need, said Ann Speyrer with the group. "Not everyone has transportation to come to the main branch," she said.
The Little Free Libraries are about the size of big birdhouses. Cankton's is about 38 by 24 inches and 12 inches deep. To protect books from the elements, it's got a Plexiglas door with a magnetic clasp and a tin roof.
Little Free Libraries are set up so visitors may borrow at any time. Unlike regular public libraries, these don't require users to sign up, carry cards or check volumes out. The miniature outposts function on the honor system.
"Although the motto is 'take a book, return a book,' we find they're circulating through the community," Speyrer said. "That's all right."
Friends of the Library helps keep the boxes stocked with contributed books. That group borrowed the idea after one member read an article online about Little Free Libraries in other parts of the country.
"We began to talk about it and look at the pros and cons," Speyrer said. "We were a little timid at first — we asked, 'Will people vandalize it?' 'Will it fall apart?'"
After local carpenters built and installed one, she said, "it turned out to be wonderful. We have had no problems."
Most places don't, although city officials in Los Angeles and Shreveport have declared that the tiny repositories violate local zoning laws and have asked their keepers to remove or relocate the boxes.
So far, the little libraries in St. Landry Parish are staying put, and staying busy. They stock a variety of fiction and nonfiction books for readers of all ages and interests, Speyrer said.
She added, "I would go for three weeks in a row and I would replenish the books 15 at a time."
Information from: The Daily World, http://www.dailyworld.com
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