It didn't take long for the Rotary Club of Fort Wayne's first Little Free Library to generate brisk business.
Right after the ribbon-cutting Tuesday morning outside Washington Elementary School on West Washington Boulevard, several children from nearby Emmanuel Lutheran Preschool and Daycare each took a turn reaching through the little door to select a book to take and read.
This is the first of at least 100 Little Free Libraries the Rotary Club hopes to help start around Fort Wayne during the next two years. The initiative is a local service project celebrating the club's 100th anniversary in June 2015.
“The mission is to get books into the hands of people, kids,” said Jeff Krull, Rotary Club president.
Encouraging literacy is one of the missions of Rotary Clubs worldwide, club members said.
Other centennial projects planned by the club, commonly called Downtown Rotary, are installing a tower with clocks in the plaza outside the Allen County Public Library's downtown branch and building a middle school for the village of Glei in Togo, West Africa.
When considering ideas for a local centennial service project, the club's local service committee focused on those that helped children and promoted literacy, said Candace Schuler, committee chair.
A professional writer, Schuler had heard of Little Free Libraries, which started in 2009 in Wisconsin, and suggested the Downtown Rotary bring the program here.
Little Free Libraries operate on the idea of “Take a book, leave a book,” Schuler said.
People set up a small receptacle to hold the books — some look like large bird feeders filled with books rather than seed — and people take a book to read and leave one of their own in its place.
The concept slowly has spread around the United States and to some countries overseas, Schuler said.
The club decided to put the first Little Free Library at Washington Elementary School, 1015 W. Washington Blvd. in downtown Fort Wayne. The club has maintained a partnership with the school since adopting it as a service project in 2004, Schuler said.
The partnership included starting a Rotary youth chapter, EarlyAct, at the school in 2010, to help students learn the value of service, a Rotary news release said. EarlyAct members at Washington Elementary will serve as stewards of the Little Free Library outside their school, checking it regularly, keeping the area around it clean and letting Rotary officials know if it needs repair, Schuler said.
Rotary members aren't worried people will steal books.
“You can't steal one, because they are free,” Schuler said.
It will be an opportunity to get books in the hands of children who may not have books at home, or who don't have the ability to check them out of an Allen County Public Library branch, said Krull, the library system's director.
The Rotary project supplements the work of the library system rather than competes with it, he said.
The library system probably will store donated books for distribution to the Little Free Libraries, he said, and the library probably also will sponsor Little Free Libraries at some of its branches.
Downtown Rotary hopes a variety of groups will sponsor and serve as stewards of a Little Free Library in their area, Schuler said.
“We envision having neighborhood organizations, social-service organizations and businesses, too,” she said.
The club already has been talking with several organizations about sponsoring Little Free Libraries, including the Fort Wayne Fire Department, local chapter of the NAACP and University of Saint Francis' Educators in Action student group, Schuler said.
The Fort Wayne Fire Department likes the idea and is considering it for stations in neighborhood locations, Chief Amy Biggs said. She hopes to have a Little Free Library open within 30 days at or near Station No. 13, 6727 N. Clinton St., near Holland Elementary School.
The local NAACP chapter also will sponsor at least one Little Free Library, to be located on Fort Wayne's southeast side, said John Peirce, a Downtown Rotary and NAACP member. Peirce also helped “customize” the Little Free Library unveiled Tuesday at Washington Elementary.
To help groups start a Little Free Library, Schuler said the Downtown Rotary will pay the $35 fee to have the location registered as an official Little Free Library. The registration includes listing the location on the Little Free Library website, www.littlefreelibrary.org; and a plaque to place on the library.
Rotary also will offer a “starter pack” of 10 books for each Little Free Library, she said. In addition, official Little Free Libraries are eligible to receive free books donated by publishing companies.
Rotary also is working with a local hardware store to make pre-cut Little Free Library construction kits available so sponsors can assemble it without needing to cut the wood, Schuler said. Sponsors are free to use any design and decoration they choose, and she hopes people will be creative.
“It really depends on the imagination of the people who put it together,” she said.