Tiny lending library brings joy to neighborhood

Karen Sage straightens up the books in her “Little Free Library” about once each day. She also adds seasonal and holiday books to the mix for neighborhood kids to enjoy. (Staff photo by Mary Alta Feddeman)

Karen Sage straightens up the books in her “Little Free Library” about once each day. She also adds seasonal and holiday books to the mix for neighborhood kids to enjoy. (Staff photo by Mary Alta Feddeman)

On the white picket fence at the corner of Hart and South Driver streets, there hangs a yellow wooden box with a metal roof and a glass door. This bright box is filled with novels and children’s stories, and it reads in bold purple letters on each side, “READ BOOKS.”

On the front, a sign indicates that this is a “Little Free Library,” a sort of movement to make books more accessible across the country and world through free lending libraries like these.

Karen Sage, of 201 S. Driver Street, built and mounted the box outside the home that she and her partner Kim Sage have lived in since 1988.

Karen Sage says she built her free lending library box after visiting a friend in Atlanta and noticing one on the street.

“We were just taking a walk one day and there was one of these…and it was so fun because we also went to bookstores that day, but I really don’t have extra money to be buying books,” she says.

“It was so fun to just come upon this…but I thought, ‘I’m just going to make one,’ just because I like to build stuff, and I put it out here,” she continues.

“And it just worked like magic from the start.”

Karen Sage encourages others to create similar boxes in their communities.

“I would recommend putting one up no matter where you live,” she says.

She also built one for a friend who lives about a block away on Main Street.

As far as keeping the library stocked with books, Karen Sage says that “kids’ books are super in demand,” but so far, she has had no problem keeping the library stocked. She also doesn’t mind if people keep the books they take.

“I don’t even mind because, I mean, the kids and people who come for these books—they need them, so I want them to keep the books. They don’t have to bring them back. You know, it’s not a rule,” she explains.

“But then, the next thing I know, there’ll be 20 books dropped off one day and 17 the next day.”

Second grader Datorrie Hunt lives across the street from the free library, and he says his favorite books to borrow are “action stories, like Superman.”

Neighborhood resident Deja Osborne says she likes the free library, and she has watched as her neighbors use and appreciate it, too.

“I had a bunch of kids’ books from when [Datorrie] got older, so I put his little children’s books in there—like Dr. Seuss ones and stuff like that,” she says. “Some people take them and bring them back. Some parents walk their kids down here to get a couple books, too.”

Kim Sage says she’s enjoyed seeing the impact the box has had on neighborhood kids, particularly this Halloween.

“The other night, trick-or-treaters came, and then they’d go back, and they’d grab a book or two,” she says.

“It’s just really fun and one more way to have community.”

The most rewarding moments for Karen Sage are when she sees the box being put to good use by members of the community.

One night, she walked out to add some books to the box and to straighten up, and she could see from the porch “this elderly grandma with two or three little kids, and they were picking out books in the dark.”

“I could hear her like, ‘Now, if you take that book, you’re going to read it,’” she laughs. “And people come with babies on their shoulders and it’s just like, ‘You’re killing me.’”

Karen Sage also recognizes the utility of the free lending library’s accessible location.

“For a lot of people, I think even getting to the library is hard. If you don’t have a car and want to get a lot of kids’ books, it’s hard,” she explains.

Karen Sage says that as far as community improvement goes, this was a very easy piece to contribute.

“Kim and everybody are doing the tough [community-building] work,” she says, referring to Kim Sage’s work with the Northeast Central Durham Leadership Council and Uplift East Durham.

“That’s hard, but this is not hard at all,” Karen Sage says.

“I get out there when something’s fun, like fixing up a house or planting these trees, but of all the projects, this is just the easiest, most heartwarming thing.”