Story and photos by Dawn Macke

A Christmas gift for a Fondren book lover has now become a gift to the entire community. Earlier this month, Susan Schmieg and Tommy Weatherford erected Jackson’s first Little Free Library in front of their home at the corner of Chickasaw Avenue and Council Circle.

Reminiscent of an oversized birdhouse, the Little Free Library is a hand-built and custom-crafted small home for book sharing in the neighborhood. It’s a “Take a book, leave a book” premise. “Little Free Libraries have a unique, personal touch and there is an understanding that real people are sharing their favorite books with their community.

These aren’t just any old books; this is a carefully curated collection and the Library itself is a piece of neighborhood art,” explains the Little Free Library web site. The mission of Little Free Library is simple: to promote literacy and the love of reading through free book exchanges worldwide and to build a sense of community through sharing skills, creativity and wisdom across generations.

The sense of community created by a Little Free Library was immediate. Within hours, neighbors were inquiring about the Fondren exchange box, raving about its beauty and quality and eager to be a part of it. As the couple was telling the story of how their Little Free Library came to be, a young mother stopped to check it out – and then had to chase her toddler, who was intent on checking out the rest of Schmieg and Weatherford’s lovely Fondren yard. Schmieg and Weatherford enjoyed laughing over it. Rather than feel imposed upon or invaded by a curious small person, they saw it as part of the true spirit of the project.

“The community aspect is what we like,” said Weatherford. “All kinds of people stop to check it out and talk books. I love the conversations, hearing what others like to read or want to contribute, and just meeting more of our neighbors.”

Their Little Free Library was a secret for months. Schmieg’s sister-in-law asked Weatherford last fall if he thought it would be a good Christmas gift for his book-loving partner and he thought it was perfect, both for her and for Fondren. Her sister-in-law built two, one for herself in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and Schmieg’s gift.

“I can’t believe how much detail she put into it,” Schmieg said. “She was really creative and fun with it and I love the materials she used.”

The Little Free Library organization encourages creativity and green building practices for their book boxes and highly recommends the use of recycled, upcycled and repurposed materials. Schmieg’s Library features whimsical colors, cats and dogs meaningful to Schmieg and her sister-in-law, little window boxes of beaded flowers, and details crafted from repurposed paint stirrers.

Response to Little Free Library has been incredible. People want to participate on all levels, from donating books to putting one in their own yards. Feedback reveals some folks lack materials, and others skills, so Weatherford and Schmieg are currently thinking about how to help.“We have enough resources in our community, that I think we can combine our strengths and help others do this too, even if they can’t build or lack supplies,” said Weatherford.

The couple is planning to hold an open house soon for anyone interested in a Little Free Library and to spread the word in the community.