By Elizabeth Keys
STILLWATER, Okla. —
“Want a book — take a book. Have a book — give a book,” a simple idea spreading throughout the world with books stocked in free weatherproof cabinets resembling large bird houses. The books inside are free for the taking and borrowers may return or replace selections with another book if they choose. There are no library cards, fees or fines — just the joy of sharing books.
The outdoor book box concept intrigued local author Debra Higgins who spread her enthusiasm to the Stillwater chapter of Altrusa International. So far, Altrusa has placed free book boxes in Coyle, Carney and Ripley, communities without a public library.
Like every major library, these book boxes are built on stories marking personal tales of the love for people and world knowledge through literacy — and the power of a story to change us all.
“Literacy is a key project in Altrusa,” Higgins said. “The free book boxes are a great way to spread the love of literature to rural areas without libraries.”
The book boxes are open 24 hours a day so people can get a book any time. Anybody can stop by and borrow a book or bring back another one to share, Higgins said. Her husband, Gary Higgins, constructed the book boxes for Altrusa. A grant from Central Rural Electric Cooperative helped fund some of the project. Altrusa members stock the boxes with books donated from their personal collections, Elite Repeat and the Friends of the Stillwater Public Library book sale. Lambert Construction provided the steel poles for the book box foundations.
“There are children’s books, adult thrillers and classic novels,” Altrusa President Nadine Olson said.
Ripley student Brayden Tarver, 8, was excited to see all the choices and he selected a “Goosebumps” paperback and a dog book for his brother.
The Altrusa book boxes are conveniently located near the school in Coyle and next to city hall in Carney and Ripley. Olson said Altrusa members will monitor the sites to restock the books frequently in each town without a public library.
Altrusa has been meeting community needs in the Stillwater area since 1955, said longtime member Gloria Hesser. In 2009, the club started a new literacy based service project, BOOKS. They have provided 5,016 books to kindergarten and first grade students and teachers in Stillwater, Perkins, Yale, Morrison, Glencoe, Coyle and Ripley. Through the BOOKS project, Altrusa has partnered with 12 elementary schools, two Head Start programs and the Oklahoma State University Rise School.
“When we were working with the schools, we noticed a need for books in several rural communities, especially during the summer months when the elementary school libraries are closed,” Olson said.
She said the free book boxes are not a replacement for traditional libraries “just an enhancement to increase access, encourage reading - and share the love of good story.”