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Photos by Nora Edinger This little free library outside of REStyle Consignment in the Central Market ranks high on the list. But, there’s plenty of variety among these kiosks – including some bookcases that are tucked away in repurposed newsboxes donated by Wheeling Newspapers.

WHEELING – When Rebecca Stahl works after hours in her Central Market window, she often notices people lingering just outside the glass windows that span the storefront. She knows they’re not looking at the display of artistic clothes just inside — no matter how hard she’s worked for that stuff.

It’s the books.

“People check it out all hours of the day and night,” Stahl said of a small free library she located just outside her REStyle send-up in 2019.

At first, she filled the small booth with titles that she thought would appeal to shoppers, diners and the multitude of young dancers who come and go from a nearby studio. In the spirit of recycling her business, she picked up quite a few volumes at book sales held by the Ohio County Public Library.

Then she pretty much let things run free except for the tidy seasonal decor she keeps in the planter at its base.

Readers — including police officers on a lunch break and the occasional street sweeper — would stop by to pick up a headline or two, Stahl said. No charge. No formal departure procedure. Nothing formal.

Stahl was thrilled when the pounds started to go and when as many or more eventually came back.

“Now I barely have to (store it) because people have been good enough to fill it,” Stahl said, noting that she weeds out books she flags as too tattered to be appealing.

“Sometimes someone shows up with a grocery bag full of books and it’s already full,” she added. “I keep them by the door when it starts to empty.”

BOOK COMMUNITY

This book-gone-wonder-and-wonder experiment has happened in other small city libraries over the few years they’ve been in use. Kris Quinn said a dozen small lending libraries coordinated by the Ohio County Virtual Lions Club have been equally well received.

These small libraries – many of which are in Warwood or in city playgrounds – were originally supplied by direct book donations or by funds raised by the Virtual Lions Club and Grow Warwood Pride. But, as with Stahl’s experience, Quinn said they soon took on a life of their own.

“It’s very rare that we get a request to fill the books,” Quinn said. “So they have to be filled in by people.”

Not that the Lions aren’t ready to restock, Quinn noted. The group has come across some good deals and there are plenty of books in store.

Unlike the super cute libraries such as those at REStyle and outside Whisk Bakery + Catering in Woodsdale, the Virtual Lions libraries are also pretty much maintenance free. They are built like tanks.

Once on-the-street distribution points for editions of the Intelligentcer and the Wheeling News-Register, the weatherproof newspaper boxes have been painted a neutral gray, Quinn said. They have since been decorated—sometimes by West Liberty University students—in various ways.

THE MAPPING

Small Lions Libraries can be located through a map on the ohiocountyvirtuallions.com website.

REStyle’s box and another from First Presbyterian Church are also charted because they are recorded by the official Little Free Library group, a literacy-focused organization started in 2009 by a Wisconsin carpenter.

But other small libraries – including Whisk’s and at least one outside a private home in Woodsdale – are more about serendipity. Readers simply find them.

That’s what got Stahl hooked on the idea, she said. She couldn’t help but browse when she visited her sister in Pittsburgh a few years ago.

“In his neighborhood, they’re everywhere,” Stahl said. “People have them in front of their houses and they’re all decorated.”

She also likes a newer take on the idea of ​​agencies, churches, or individuals offering easy-to-eat food at similar kiosks.

Another twist is to put winter coats, hats and gloves on direct street display – available to anyone who needs them, when they need them.

Readers who want to run their own small lending library can make a solo effort or work through the Little Free Library organization, which also sells pre-made kiosks.

Or, they can always tap into the news box supply coordinated by Virtual Lions, Quinn noted.

Information about these latest boxes can be found on the ohiocountyvirtuallions.com website under the little lending library button.



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