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Little Free Library Fosters Literacy, Community in Berkley

Longtime residents Eric and Susan Murrell serve as stewards of the charming, handmade box, from which neighbors can borrow books on the honor system.

On a peaceful Berkley street, where crickets chirp as the fading golden rays of evening sunlight filter through the trees, a couple with deep roots in the community has established a Little Free Library.

Longtime residents Eric and Susan Murrell, who live in the St. John Woods neighborhood, serve as stewards of the Little Free Library in the 3900 block of Kenmore. It is No. 1,522 among thousands of similar sites that are part of a worldwide movement that began in 2009 in Wisconsin.

The Little Free Library concept is simple: Using the honor system, neighbors deposit and check out books from a charming box that holds a few dozen titles – in this case, one made of stained wood with a glass door, shingles and a knob that rotates to reveal lines from The House by The Side of the Road by poet Sam Walter Foss.

Murrell said it took him approximately 3 months to build the Little Free Library, which he did to honor his mother, an avid reader.

"When I was a kid, I was a terrible reader," he said. "When I was in school, I hated doing reading assignments and I think it drove my mother crazy. So, if anything, this is a tribute to her commitment to reading."

Susan Murrell said she also struggled with reading in school and it was only once she wasn't told what to read that she developed a passion for it.

Despite their youthful disdain for books, each of the pair worked at the Berkley Public Library – Eric from 1978 to 1979 and Susan from 1979 to 1981. But, their ties to each other – and to Berkley – go back even further.

The couple met while eating lunch in the cafeteria at Berkley High School and they each attended Pattengill Elementary School and Anderson Middle School.

"It was a junior high back then," Susan Murrell said with a laugh.

The Murrells said that, as children, they rode their bikes past their current home and daydreamed of living there one day. With that wish fulfilled, they are giving back to their community by serving as caretakers of the Little Free Library that is located on the edge of their front lawn.

"We talk to people all the time who thank us for doing it. I've talked to neighbors I haven't talked to before," Eric Murrell said. "It was up about an hour and our neighbor from a few doors down called me – I didn't even know she knew my name – and said she was taking a couple bags of books to the Salvation Army and could she donate them. Some are still here."

Eric Murrell said it is interesting to watch the process.

"Our neighbor across the street read The African Queen and now it's back," he said. "The latest is Winter Garden."

Susan Murrell explained that the Little Free Library's top shelf is dedicated to books for grown-ups, while the bottom shelf is for children's literature.

Berkley Public Library Director Celia Morse said she sees the Little Free Library as a complement to the city institution.

"I think they're more for the casual browser who's walking by and thinks, 'Oh! This is fun! Maybe I'll find something to read,' " than for someone who relies on the breadth of the public library's 80,000 offerings or its reference desk, she said. "I think it's a really good idea. Anything that gives exposure to libraries is great in my book."

Eric Murrell agreed.

"Ultimately, it's about getting everybody to read," he said. "It's an easy, safe way to get kids thinking about this community that's bigger than just their family."

Visit the Little Free Library movement at littlefreelibrary.org or on Facebook.

cat September 28, 2012 at 11:56 AM
What a lovely idea! The box is so charming. I love to see reading promoted in any form. I hope this idea spreads to other communities.
HEATHER G. HYDE September 28, 2012 at 01:08 PM
What a fine compliment to a wonderful neighborhood! Heather Hyde
Joanna September 30, 2012 at 12:15 PM
I live on Woodlawn in Royal Oak and there's also a Little Free Library here, just west of Rochester. Thank you S., P., and kids!!

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