SEBRING — Situated in a wooden box near a lake, fiction, fantasy, fact and fortitude can be found.
And the words of wisdom, vice, emotions and intellect are free for the taking, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Since July 16, Highlands County’s Little Free Library (LFL) has been a successful source of literature for residents, visitors and just folks passing through town on U.S. 27.
At the Lake Glenada Park boat ramp stands the first of what will eventually be at least six LFL book boxes, 12-inches deep, two feet wide and two feet tall, weatherproof wooden kiosks that contain donated books. The idea is anyone visiting a LFL box can take a book out and eventually return it. The books are donated through the Heartland Library Cooperative serving Highlands, Okeechobee, DeSoto and Hardee counties and the Highlands County Library System.
The system is sponsored by the Wisconsin-based LFL and is a free way to get books into the hands of anyone with an urge to read. The only cost is a $35 registration fee with LFL, which adds a box to the nationwide system. Locally, the LFL is managed by the Highlands County Parks and Natural Resources Department in partnership with the Highlands County Library System.
Since the box library was officially “opened” at Lake Glenada, it’s been in steady use, said Mary Myers, director of the Highlands County Library System. She said it has been so successful, most of the 50 books and puzzles originally donated were gone within the first two weeks and have to be regularly restocked.
“The idea is the communities will want to keep the library going by bringing some of their books in to donate when they take books,” Myers said.
Myers, in her 26th year with the Heartland Library Cooperative, said the box is restocked once a month using books donated to the Sebring Public Library, 319 W. Center Ave.
“What’s good is people can put books they recommend in and it’s a good way for people to share books they recommend and love with other people,” she said.
Those books and puzzles could be left without restrictions, Myers added. She said there is no censorship of what is donated but that people should “just use good common sense” on what is or isn’t appropriate to leave. She said if something objectionable is deposited it can be taken out by whomever and that “community standards will prevail.”
“The idea is the community will want to keep the library going by bringing some of their books whenever they take books,” she said.
Another cost-effective feature about the LFL is that they are built for free. They are generally made of used wood or materials scrapped by community building or utilities departments. The Lake Glenada LFL was built by Steven Becker, a Highlands County finish carpenter with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service and is maintained by Ron McClure, Highlands County building maintenance supervisor and a certified general contractor.
During a check on the LFL Wednesday, McClure said visitors have been using the box regularly, with fiction and Spanish-language books seeming to be the most popular. He said he hoped to have six boxes up around Highlands County within the next two or three weeks and they’re especially important for communities located far from a library branch.
“Some people may not go to the library, but they’ll come here to get a book,” he said. “People traveling through can stop, get a book and drop it off in the next community that has one.”
Currently, the nearest official LFL box to Lake Glenada’s is about a half-hour west in Zolfo Springs in Hardee County. There, a box is located in the Cracker Trail Museum in Pioneer Park. The LFL there, in place since February, has an average of 25 books and magazines stocked, said Judith George, museum curator.
“People like it here; they think it’s a great idea and a great program and should work well there (Highlands County),” she said.
Although not an official LFL box, the Sebring community of Golf Hammock has had a “give-take” book box on its premises for about a year, said Sandy Todd, homeowners’ association president. She said the box is in front of a private home, has an average of about 20 books within and is available to community residents and visitors only.
As for Highlands County, Myers and McClure said there are several locations where LFLs may be built and set up. Other places include county-owned facilities at the Lake Olivia walking trail, the Bert J. Harris Jr. Agricultural Civic Center on George Boulevard, Istokpoga Park, Windy Point Park, the Lorida schoolhouse and Martin Luther King Park at Carver Park in Lake Placid.
The LFLs began in 2009, when Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisc., built a model of a one room schoolhouse as a tribute to his mother, a former school teacher who loved reading. He put books in it and placed it on a post in his front yard. With enthusiastic response from family and friends he built more and gave each away with a sign that read “FREE BOOKS.”