Just off the sidewalk, amid greenery and near a small wishing well, sits a little box, painted red and decorated with miscellaneous keys and cards. Open the small, glass-paneled door and you’re likely to find yourself anywhere, anytime — just pick your book.
Ellen Carrlee, with the help of her husband, Scott, installed the Little Free Library in their front yard Saturday just feet away from the State Office Building. As of Wednesday, some books had been taken and others added, all in the spirit of a project that originated in Wisconsin, Carrlee’s home state.
When Carrlee discovered the Little Free Library, she had to have one, too.
“It was almost like I couldn’t avoid doing it in a way. You know that building, across the street,” she said, pointing to the Juneau-Douglas City Museum. “I worked there when I first came to town, but before that it was the library, and, you know, Dale DeArmond lived in this house from 1953-1991. Bob DeArmond, of course, was a really well-known historian, and they lived here for years and years and years. This was their house. So that’s one factor.”
Living in what is sometimes referred to as the “Librarian House” is just one factor. Another, she said, is working for the Alaska State Museum, under the umbrella of the Alaska State Libraries, Archives and Museums.
“You know, we’re tied in with the library that way. Professionally, I’m sort of attached to that sort of thing,” she added.
Another factor is the amount of foot traffic their yard gets and the amount of interactions with people as they pass by.
People often snag rocks or pick flowers from the yard. Having chats with passersby is not uncommon either. Her husband had the idea of adding a wishing well.
“Oh, they’ll toss money in, won’t that be neat?” he said at the time.
Sure enough, some people toss money in, though others take some out.
“It’s funny. Take a quarter leave a quarter, maybe we’ll have take a book, leave a book,” Carrlee said.
The Carrlees stocked the little box with books of their own, both adult books and children’s books from their son, Carson.
“We’re drowning in kids’ books,” she said.
As far as the books she and her husband have collected, she added: “I look at these books I have on my shelf, ‘Well, I haven’t read this for 10 years, but am I really ready to throw them out yet?’ I’m hanging on to them in case I want to give them to somebody.”
Now they have the perfect opportunity to see these books go to new, good homes. The selection so far includes books like “The Tao of Pooh” and “The Fountainhead.”
“Scott and I had this argument about whether (The Fountainhead) is political, because there are the three P’s — it’s best not to put politics, preaching or porn into the Little Free Library.”
The offerings are diverse, and growing more diverse with each deposit. Newer additions include “The Last Policeman” and “Lonesome Dove,” while bygone opportunities include “Gone with the Wind.”
Carrlee also included a notebook inside for people to write in, with one man writing that he was going through a tough time and would therefore take “The Worst Hard Time.”
People from Hawaii and Seattle have written in it, and one person started drawing inside it. Unfortunately, Carrlee said, the notebook was missing when she checked the Little Free Library on Wednesday morning.
“There’s something in if for everyone,” she said of the Little Free Library, optimistically. “Maybe someone needed spare paper. Maybe that’s why they took the journal.”
Beyond a box of books, what’s in it for Carrlee, and what she suspects is in it for others who set up Little Free Libraries, is “a civic thing.”
“It’s a way to give and take with community, show affection for their neighbors and excitement about something wholesome,” she said. “That’s kind of my take on it.”
She wants people to get excited about reading, thoughts and ideas. She wants a positive way for strangers to interact.
Carrlee would like to see Little Free Libraries pop up all over Juneau. She bought a pre-made library, but it’s possible to buy less expensive kits to build their own, or for people to make their own from scratch. The Carrlees added a metal roof to ensure the books would stay dry, added paint and decorations — some functional and others just fun. She’s registered her Little Free Library on the website littlefreelibrary.org, where more information and kits are available, so her library will show up on the map.
So far, strangers, friends and neighbors have responded positively to the new addition to the neighborhood, whether for a love of books or community-building.
“I think it contributes in the way of, if you want the world to be a certain way, be that way,” Carrlee said. “Be the change you want to see.”