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Free Books

Residents share books through mini-libraries.

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If you've driven down Peabody near Cooper in the last month, you may have noticed what appears to be a wooden birdhouse in a yard on the south side of the street.

But if you look closer, that house is full of books. A little sign beneath it reads "Little Free Library: Take a Book, Return a Book."

This Little Free Library, stewarded by Steve and Jennifer Boren, is the second to pop up in Memphis. A Harbor Town couple maintains the first one in their front yard.

Todd Bol started the original Little Free Library in Madison, Wisconsin, in 2009. Since then, the nonprofit has expanded to include over 2,000 locations worldwide. The local Little Free Libraries were erected after both couples were inspired by a news story about the free library trend on National Public Radio in March.

Little Free Libraries run on the "take a book, leave a book" principle, although people who start their own libraries may fill the boxes up the first time.

"I thought, wow, what a great opportunity for our community," Jennifer Boren said.

Boren solicited the help of her husband's tool-savvy father and uncle to build the library. After previewing other Little Free Libraries on the nonprofit's website, the family designed and built the unique box. On the couple's four-year anniversary, which falls on the Fourth of July, the two installed the library in 100-degree heat.

"It's pretty amazing. Within the first day, all the books that I started with in the library were gone, and we had new books," she said.

The books continued to turn over quickly. She remembered getting home late and checking the library. When she took out her trash a few hours later, someone had taken a book. "Every day you open it, it's a surprise," she said. "It's like Christmas every time."

Books that have been left in Boren's library have included Naked by David Sedaris, The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle, and Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser.

So far, the Borens have had no problems with the library. When a friend asked her what she would do if someone stole all the books, she said, "How can someone steal something that's free?"

"There's something to be said for the whole sense of community," Boren said. "It doesn't just belong to my husband and me. It's everybody's free library. I think when people see that it's for everyone, everyone takes a stake of ownership in it."

Boren said she's been surprised by how many titles leave and return. When she put an audiobook on cassette in the library, her husband joked that no one would ever take it. By the next day, it was gone. A few days later, the audiobook returned and someone else took it.

As a middle school librarian and the mother of a 15-month-old, Boren tries to keep books for people of all ages in circulation. She also monitors the library to ensure nothing too explicit makes its way into the rounds.

Prior to starting the library, the Borens only knew their immediate neighbors, but now the couple is meeting people from all over who stop by for a book and end up staying to chat.

She said exchanging books opens a dialogue unavailable through other media: "People get to share the books they love. It's neat to see a book you really love gone."

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