FARGO — Across the community, dozens of miniature freestanding schoolhouses, robots, telephone booths and huts dot the yards of homes, churches and even some schools. They're filled with other worlds just waiting to be discovered — romance, mystery, fairy tales, thrills and more — all free for the taking.
Did folks in the area get together one day and decide to start giving away books? Well, sort of. It's all part of an international effort with the motto "Take a book, share a book" that continues to grow 10 years after it was launched.
These structures are called Little Free Libraries (LFL), an effort driven by a registered nonprofit that aims to inspire a love of reading and build community through neighborhood book exchanges. The organization began in Hudson, Wis., in 2009 and has since expanded to more than 90,000 registered libraries in all 50 states and 91 countries around the world.
According to the nonprofit, which provides tips for starting new book exchanges and maps of known existing locations, at least several dozen such libraries are now open and active around Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo.
"(Reading) is just such a social thing," says Pat Pobst, a retired kindergarten teacher and LFL steward.
Pobst first got into the LFL program after hearing about it from a friend and attending LFL founder Todd Bol's TEDxFargo speech about it in 2013.
Her library, a blue and yellow hutlike structure adorned with rulers of various sizes, stands tall in her front yard in south Fargo, providing convenient access for passersby.
"I saw children in my classroom getting more and more hooked on technology," she says. "Reading is such a wonderful experience, and I felt I needed to encourage the love of holding a book in their hands."
Anyone who walks by the library is encouraged to take a book to read, and if you take a book (or two), you don't need to return the exact one. These stops function on the honor system, and help to share everyone's favorite books with the community.
For Judy Gibbins-long, the move from Fargo to nearby Horace, N.D., diminished the number of visiting library patrons — but it didn't stop them completely.
"There's three (kids) behind me, a couple of boys down the road," Gibbins-long says. "They come and go. I got a lot more (kids) in Fargo, when I lived right by the school."
Rosie, as Gibbins-long affectionately calls her robotic and bright pink LFL, is made of an old newspaper stand donated by The Forum.
"I called and he asked what I wanted to do with (the stand)," she says. "So I told him and I said I'd pay for it and he told me I didn't have to and they'd even deliver it to me. I came home that day and there it was in my driveway!"
Gibbins-long says she called the North Dakota State College of Science welding department and asked if they'd be able to help her bring her vision to life. She bought scrap parts from Mac's Hardware and soon had her Rosie.
"She usually has balloons on her and a green tutu," she says. "It's probably stuck in a tree somewhere, though."
New books, old books
The LFL program relies on residents, known as stewards, to watch over the libraries and keep them stocked. There are no set rules on what types of books go in each library; however, many stewards have their own themes, including the one operated by Pobst, a retired teacher.
"I kept the hardcover books from my classroom and left the softcover books. I change them out on the first of every month," she says.
Pobst keeps her library stocked with children's books, but says she's started to include books for older kids, too.
"I started my library in 2013," Pobst says. "(My neighbor boy) is going into sixth grade now and (my neighbor girl) across the street will be in seventh grade next year, so I've added a few books for them in there."
Down in Horace, Gibbins-long's Rosie is kept full with a mix of books for all ages.
"There's both (adult and children's books)," she says. "I go to the thrift store and get them for 50 cents. I switch them out twice in the summer, and I don't have anything in the winter. There's two or three little girls whose dad brings them on their bikes. They take a couple books and sit down and read."
That's evident by the matted-down grass, the size of a small child's rear end, that sits near the pink robot.
"I love to read and my grandkids love to read," Gibbins-long says. "It's just a good exercise for the brain and your imagination. You live in a different world for just a little bit."
Starting your own LFL
Opening up your own LFL is as easy as building a box, filling it with books and registering it on the LFL World Map.
For more information on LFLs closest to you, or for step-by-step instructions on how to start your own library, visit littlefreelibrary.org.