Pittsburgh couple open book collection to others

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Rick McGee and Lisa Ciccarelli of Regent Square live close to a library. Very close.

In fact, it's in their front yard.

The couple built the little library -- a waterproof wooden house set atop a post, complete with a red roof, a door with a window and two shelves with about 25 of their books inside -- in the front yard of their Biddle Avenue home in early June.

They call it the Word House, and the rules are simple: Take one. Leave one.

For the past month and a half, that's what dog walkers, stroller pushers, runners, bike riders and even people in cars have been doing. Their original books are gone, and the library has seen a regular rotation of new reads.

"This is a great way to share books," said Mr. McGee, who decided to create the Word House after he saw his uncle post a photograph on Facebook of a library box in St. Paul, Minn.

It turns out there is a mini-library movement, and although they may be small in size, they are large in number.

The first one appeared in Hudson, Wis., in 2009, when Todd Bol, whose background is in international business development, built a little library in his yard as a memorial to his mother, a school teacher. People seemed to love it, he said, so he and friend Rick Brooks of Madison, Wis., an outreach program manager at the University of Wisconsin whose specialties include social entrepreneurship work, decided to create the Little Free Library project.

The libraries promote reading, Mr. Brooks said, but they also create more tightly knit communities by giving neighbors a place to gather and talk.

Their website, littlefreelibrary.org, encourages people to build their own little libraries. Since its launch, their estimate is that more than 2,500 libraries have been built in all 50 states and 32 countries, Mr. Brooks said.

A map on their website shows the locations of many of the little libraries, and it appears that the library in the Wilkinsburg part of Regent Square is the Pittsburgh area's first.

Although Mr. McGee, who works in architectural lighting design, and his wife, Ms. Ciccarelli, who works in insurance, have lived in Regent Square since 1994, they said the free library has helped them meet more of their neighbors.

The reaction to the Word House has been "fantastic," said Joe Davis, who lives in the neighborhood and owns Biddle's Escape, a recently opened coffee shop down the street from the Word House.

"It further creates Regent Square as this very family-friendly, loving, multicultural community where everyone just appreciates each other," he said.

And what does the big free library -- the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh -- think about the little free library?

"I think that any time that people have the opportunity to read, I think that's a good thing," spokeswoman Suzanne Thinnes said.

books - neigh_city

Kaitlynn Riely: kriely@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1707.


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