When Lucy Fine began working to bring “little free book boxes” to Hood River last spring, she had no idea she was laying the groundwork for something significantly bigger.
Then a junior, Fine’s goal was to place three community-supported, bilingual library boxes in high traffic areas for her Extended Application project at Hood River Valley High School. She had neighbor Mike Kitts, a local builder, create the boxes and then painted them herself. She worked with Hood River Valley Parks and Rec to place one at the Hood River Aquatic Center and another at the Children’s Park. Books in English and Spanish were placed inside, donated by community members and Fine’s project mentor, Hood River Library Children’s Librarian Jana Hannigan.
“I’m interested in contributing to the community,” Fine said in an April 2016 News story about the book boxes. “I wanted to help people other than myself. Plus I really like literature.”
The placement of the third box was put on the backburner, simply because she ran out of time.
But the story doesn’t end there.
Before the start of summer vacation, Fine, now a senior, was contacted by Shelley Toon Lindberg of Arts in Education of the Gorge. The nonprofit was implementing an ArtPlace America grant, received by The Libraries of Eastern Oregon, of which Hood River County Library District is a part. One of the projects was putting little libraries into neighborhoods around the Gorge, and it was in this planning stage that Lindberg saw Fine’s book box at the pool.
“I have seen these for years and always loved the idea, and when I saw Lucy’s … we had been talking about placing them in Hood River and Wasco counties, so I called Lucy and she was like, ‘I did it for my EA project and I’d love to expand it.’
“I’m so inspired by her commitment to this project and her immediate willingness to expand it,” added Lindberg. “I barely got the sentence out before she said, ‘Yes, let’s do it.’ She’s been wonderful.”
“It’s super exciting, especially since this is what I want to do with my life — community enrichment, helping those in need, giving opportunities to people who originally wouldn’t have them,” said Fine on Tuesday. “And being able to work with Shelley as a coworker is a really great experience, because she’s in charge of such a great organization.”
The expanded project began in earnest at the end of August. A total of 15 library boxes will be placed in neighborhoods from Hood River to Arlington.
Exactly where the boxes will go is still in the planning stages, said Lindberg.
“It’s really about finding a person who says, ‘Yes, I will take this box on and we’ll maintain it, this is my community service and we’ll make sure it’s full of books.’”
But for now, the focus is on the boxes themselves. Local woodworker Rod Stuart has been hired to build all 15 of his own design.
“Rod finds all of his wood on jobsites and the Krieg Millwork’s giveaway box; he uses driftwood … he really likes to scavenge for materials and reuse things,” said Lindberg.
Fine describes the boxes as “more creative” than her original design, and she couldn’t be happier.
“We’re switching it up a bit,” she said.
Three of the boxes — two new and one from Fine’s original project — will be painted by local artist Mark Nilsson, and the rest by HRVHS art students under the direction of art teacher Matthew Gerlick and teaching artist Kara Sisk.
“Matthew is a halftime art teacher and halftime district librarian, so it’s exactly the kind of project the likes to see,” said Lindberg. “He likes the service learning aspect of it too. It really involves the students in something that helps other people. Service to someone other than themselves — that’s the whole idea of the EA project, really. But Lucy was the inspiration.”
The goal, said Lindberg, is to get the boxes painted and installed “before the rain starts falling in November.
“If anyone is interested in having one at their home or their business — we really want to put them in places easily accessible, with someone to help make sure there are books in them. We have a few people interested, but we need more.”
Anyone who would like to take on a little library box is asked to email Lindberg at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stewardship and investment in the boxes by the community is important to keep them running, noted Fine, who thinks of her boxes at the pool and Children’s Park as little children to babysit — she visits them frequently to make sure they’re free of trash and stocked with books.
She recently found propaganda inside the box at the Children’s Park, and reminds the public that the boxes are for books, not for “self-interests.” The Children’s Park box is particularly difficult to maintain, she noted.
“The pool box takes care of itself — sometimes it is filled to overflowing,” Fine said. “But the Children’s Park box is more work. I have to restock it frequently with donations I received from my EA project.”
Fine is hoping to attend Brown University next fall, and is planning to major in sociology with an emphasis on social justice — “plus maybe English.”
“I’d rather be out doing than sitting at a desk,” she said.