Commerce

St. Petersburg couple creates dozens of small, free libraries for the community

ST. PETERSBURG – The pandemic created a paradox for book lovers when it hit Florida. There was more free time than ever for reading, yet some public libraries had closed their doors indefinitely.

So when Kristine Dowhan, 29, saw a porcelain hutch on the side of the road at the start of lockdown, she got the idea to fill it with books for the community.

She and her husband, Michael, 45, set it up at the end of their Snell Isle driveway in May, next to a sidewalk chalk message asking passers-by to pick up or leave a book.

The book hutch was so popular that a neighbor left a blank book inside for visitors to sign as a guest book.

“There is so much great literature out there, yet the only thing missing are our own stories. It’s a weird time to go through, I know … So here’s to fill in some blank pages with a little bit of yourself, to meet new people and don’t forget to stop and think for a moment ”, a writes the person under the initials JS “Remember to pass it on.”

It was then that the Dowhans realized they needed to create a permanent lending library.

A free lending library can be found at the end of Kristine and Michael Dowhan’s Alley in Snell Isle in St. Petersburg. [ JONAH HINEBAUGH | Times ]

They bought a 1940s oak phone booth for $ 700 from a Craigslist seller in New Jersey and spent a month turning it into a free library. But soon after settling in outside the house, the couple realized they needed more space to store all the books their neighbors were giving away.

Kristine contacted the Tampa Bay weather ask for old newspaper boxes. the Time had improved tbt * – the free weekly belonging to the Time – boxes and donate the last of the old models to their cause. Next, Little Free Library, a global neighborhood book exchange network, donated 25 charters costing $ 40 each to help the Dowhans get the libraries. listed on their online map free.

Kristine Dowhan, 29, applies a coat of spray paint to an old tbt * newspaper box.  She and her husband, Michael, are converting the shelves into free lending bookcases.
Kristine Dowhan, 29, applies a coat of spray paint to an old tbt * newspaper box. She and her husband, Michael, are converting the shelves into free lending bookcases. [ JONAH HINEBAUGH | Times ]

Kristine posted on the Buy Nothing St. Petersburg Facebook group to gauge interest. She asked potential librarians to post a photo of where they would like to place their community library with the color they would like. Then she and Michael started to transform the boxes.

The Dowhans spent the afternoons of the week lining up the boxes in the aisle, scratching off old logos and stickers before cleaning, sanding and painting. They use supplies from existing home improvement projects and typically have to purchase a can of spray paint for each box. They venture out on weekends to deliver boxes to community librarians, who each decide how to personalize their box.

Michael Dowhan, 45, removes stickers from an old tbt * newspaper box while his wife Kristine waits for a coat of paint to dry.  Both take newsstands and reuse them for free lending libraries.
Michael Dowhan, 45, removes stickers from an old tbt * newspaper box while his wife Kristine waits for a coat of paint to dry. Both take newsstands and reuse them for free lending libraries. [ JONAH HINEBAUGH | Times ]

A librarian, Vanessa LeVesque, used her painting skills to adorn her picture box of 29 book covers, The hungry caterpillar to Fabio the Sweet Thief.

“I can’t wait to meet neighbors I’ve never had the chance to speak with before. I can’t wait to see which pounds are taken and which pounds are put in, “said LeVesque. “I think I’m just looking forward to the cohesion of the project, especially right now with everyone feeling so isolated from each other.”

Vanessa LeVesque decorated her library with paintings of characters from books including
Vanessa LeVesque has decorated her bookshelf with paintings of characters from books such as “Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type”, “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” and “Green Eggs and Ham”. [ Courtesy of Vanessa LeVesque ]

Another librarian, Kate Little, a reading teacher at Johns Hopkins College, uses her Cricut Vinyl machine to make stickers for her fellow librarians. Its purple box bears a quote from Garrison Keillor: “A book is a gift that you can open over and over again.” “

“This has been my way of giving back to our community,” Little said.

Kate Little, a reading teacher at Johns Hopkins College, set up her free lending library outside her Kenwood home in St. Petersburg and decorated it with homemade vinyl stickers.
Kate Little, a reading teacher at Johns Hopkins College, set up her free lending library outside her Kenwood home in St. Petersburg and decorated it with homemade vinyl stickers. [ Courtesy of Kate Little ]

Including their phone booth, the Dowhans have so far established 16 libraries and have 12 more to complete. Each will be registered on the Little Free Library site. They created a Facebook group to keep local community librarians connected called St. Pete Shush. (A group of librarians is called a shhh.)

“What really matters is exactly being able to sit on my porch and watch my neighbors come to my house to enjoy our books and allow her to strike up conversations about what really brings our little local community together,” said said Michael Dowhan.