By BECKY MALEWITZ
SCOTT CITY — The sign says "take a book leave a book," but if you can't leave a book, Scott City resident Jan Huck says feel free to take one anyway. Huck is on a mission to make sure that everybody who wants to read has the opportunity, which is why she has built three Little Free Libraries around Scott City.
"Anybody can do them, and if you look at Little Free Library on the Internet, they have a museum kind of thing. They are in every shape and form and made out of heaven only knows what, and they are so cool and unique," she said.
Little Free Library is a nonprofit organization started in 2009 and based out of Wisconsin. According to its website, its mission is to, "promote literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide and to build a sense of community as we share skills, creativity and wisdom across generations."
"There are some of these little free libraries in every state in the United States and many countries that are official. I have one official little free library and some that are unofficial," she said.
Official libraries are mapped on the organization's website. Huck has sent in the information to register one of her libraries and is waiting for confirmation and for hers to be listed.
Each of Huck's libraries has a theme geared toward different age groups. The first library she set up looks like a mini-blue house with a window in the front that Huck and her husband, Rick, built from scratch. It stands on a post outside the Plains Inn, an extended stay hotel owned by Huck, and is filled with books for adult readers, primarily men, who stay at the inn.
"People walk by it all the time at the Plains Inn, and I think my guests are taking advantage of it," she said.
Another Little Free Library can be found outside of Huck's grandchildren's daycare, located on College Street in Scott City. This library is filled with a variety of children's books. What looks like a tall thin house covered in bright colors and drawings of animals is actually a re-purposed ammunition box Huck found at a garage sale.
"I definitely know the children at my grandchildren's daycare use that library, and I'm encouraging (parents) that any books you have at home that maybe your children have outgrown, bring them and stick them in the library, and I know they are doing it," she said.
Annette Orr, the daycare's owner, says her daycare kids love having the little library just outside in the front yard.
"We just let the kids run out and get them," she said. "We love it. The neighbor kids come get books, and we get books. With daycare, we get bored with our books, so we pass them back and forth."
Orr says she enjoys watching the neighborhood kids pick out a book.
"It's fun to see them look like they are sneaking in, almost like they are taking them," she said. "They look around, and I'll peek out the door and say, 'it's OK, take them, have as many as you want.'"
Keller Turner, 3, who attends "Ms. Annette's" day care, is one of the children that benefits from having a library just outside the front door. He likes to open the hooks that hold the two glass-paned doors closed on the library.
"I like the top door because a lot of books are in there," he said.
Driving down Main Street in Scott City, it's easy to pick out what is probably the most visible of the three libraries in town. Decorated by Huck with paintings of superheroes, the re-purposed cupboard filled with books for young readers sits outside the Western Kansas Child Advocacy Center.
Although Huck and her husband built the library at the request of the center, it is maintained and refilled by the organization.
Building Little Free Libraries is not the first project Huck has done to spread her love of reading.
Several years ago, she and her daughter went on a teaching mission in Fiji and ended up building a library to organize the books at the small school where they taught English through music. The next year, they went to an even smaller, remote village in Fiji and built a library from scratch. After leaving the islands, they even went as far as shipping books from the United States.
So it was no surprise that when Huck first heard about Little Free Libraries from a friend, she decided that she wanted to bring them to Scott City. "Someone said 'we have a great library here, why would you want to do this?' And well ... they're right," Huck said. "But there's a lot of people who just don't go to the library even if it's right there in front of them, or maybe they went to the library, got it back late and have a fine and don't want to go back, or who knows. Yes, we do have a great library, but there's still a need for books."
Huck hopes to build more libraries before the end of the year and take them to low income areas of Dallas.
"My daughter teaches at a school in Dallas, and she teaches in a middle class neighborhood. However, a vast majority of her students are low socioeconomic children that are bussed in. Many of them live in what would be the Dallas projects," Huck said. "In fact, some of her students are in shelters, some of their parents are living in a hotel room that is paid for by a church, and their library doesn't let the students take the books home. So, it's my goal to build 10 more of these Little Free Libraries and have enough books to take to those communities who can't bring a book home."
Huck is always looking for more books to fill her libraries. She regularly buys out entire sections at thrift stores and will go as far as jumping in the giant bin of used books at the Scott County Recycle Center to sort out the good ones that can be used again. She hopes getting the word out to other Kansas book lovers will help the Little Free Library movement grow, saying she would like to even start a Little Free Library filled with Spanish books.
"The more word we get out about this, you know maybe we will get another hundred free libraries out there in western Kansas," she said. "I think it would be awesome."
For more information about Little Free Libraries, visit http://www.littlefreelibrary.org/.