"They create a sense of community in the fact that they allow people to share books that they love with others who may not have access to those books."

Soon, readers across McPherson may not have to make the drive downtown to the library to get books to read — or worry about due dates and late fees.

The McPherson County Community Foundation, their Youth Advisory Council and the McPherson Education Association are working together to create "little free libraries."

Little free libraries are small boxes with doors, often built in the shape of a house, in which a selection of books is placed.

The books are free for anyone to take and read at their leisure, with no due date for its return. Readers are encouraged to swap out titles from their own collections to share with others.

The concept started in 2009, when Todd H. Bol built the first Little Free Library book exchange and placed it in his Hudson, Wisconsin, front yard to honor his mother.

"A little free library is a free, take a book, leave a book exchange. They come in various sizes and are all across the United States," said MEA President Rebecca Pflughoeft.

Today, the number of registered book exchanges has grown to more than 50,000 around the world, in all 50 states and in 70 countries, through which millions of books are shared annually. The McPherson groups plan to register their book exchanges with Little Free Library, which is a nonprofit organization.

"The push to create little free libraries here in McPherson is to promote increased literacy in our community and a sense of community within McPherson citizens," Pflughoeft said. "They create a sense of community in the fact that they allow people to share books that they love with others who may not have access to those books."

Statistics from the Literacy Project Foundation state that half of the adults in the United States cannot read a book written at an eighth grade level. Across the country, there are 45 million functionally illiterate adults who read below the fifth grade level. Of American households, 60 percent do not buy even a single book per year.

Studies also show that illiteracy affects the economy, with 20 percent of Americans reading below the level needed to earn a living wage. Of those on welfare, 75 percent cannot read. Illiteracy costs American taxpayers an estimated $20 billion each year. Half of the people between the ages of 16 to 21 who are unemployed cannot read well enough to be considered functionally literate.

In order to create little free libraries around McPherson, the help of residents and businesses is being requested.

"We will need builders, donors for materials, cash contributions and people to help maintain them in each neighborhood," said MCCF President Becky Goss. "We are working on a uniform plan that people can use when building the library."

Once the little free libraries are constructed, they will be placed in neighborhoods all around McPherson.

"We will look for about 40 neighborhoods in McPherson that are willing to adopt and care for a Little Free Library," said Youth Advisory Council Sponsor Erica Shook. "We hope to see them in every area of the city."

Having easier access to books will promote reading across the city, a mission that is important to Shook, who teaches English at the high school and college levels.

“Reading is the single best way to improve our intelligence. What do we think in? Words. How do we learn more words? By reading. So, the more we read, the more words we know, the more intelligent we become, the more complex our thoughts can be," Shook said. "Reading also increases empathy, which is something we are in desperate need of as a society."

If you would like to help with the little free libraries project, contact Erica Shook at erica.shook@mcpherson.com, Becky Goss at becky@mcphersonfoundation.org or Rebecca Pflughoeft at rebecca.pflughoeft@mcpherson.com.

For more information about the Little Free Library organization, visit https://littlefreelibrary.org.