Check it Out: Little Free Libraries on the Outer Banks

Little Free Libraries have been sweeping the globe one book at a time and our barrier islands are no exception. To the delight of book lovers, charming little libraries can now be found along the Outer Banks. These outposts of literature are filling up with every genre, giving readers a chance to share their love for the written word.

Above: Lori Keating (left) led the charge to install four Little Free Libraries at beach accesses in Southern Shores and have them designed by local artists. Dawn Moraga (right) painted a beach scene on this library at the Hillcrest Drive access. Photo Marie Walker

As a recently retired school librarian, Southern Shores resident Lori Keating just couldn’t seem to get out of the business of managing rooms chock-full of books. But now, instead of handling shelves upon shelves, she focuses on just a few nooks that may be tiny, but seem to be making a huge impact.

And her little libraries are situated at the perfect place to bury your nose in a book – the beach. 

Like many that have sprung up on the Outer Banks, each has its own size, shape, and design, but they all do the same thing – inspire passersby to pick up a book. 

“I kept seeing these libraries pop up in the community, and I had the idea to put them at beach accesses, because who doesn’t like to read at the beach,” says Keating, whose professional life has centered around nurturing a love of reading. “When someone finally gets hooked on that one book, it can open their eyes to the world.”

With the Southern Shores Civic Association on board, she and her husband, Tom, built four little libraries, enlisted local artists to decorate the libraries, and erected them this spring at the heavily used beach accesses of Chicahauk Trail, E. Dogwood Trail, Triangle Park and Hillcrest Drive. 

This library located at the E. Dogwood Trail beach access was designed by local artist Barbara Noel. Photo Jane Fiedler

Keating’s libraries, along with more than a dozen others along the Outer Banks, are part of a national movement in which little free libraries are springing up on roadsides, in neighborhoods, parks and in other spots across the country. 

Some of the libraries are registered with Little Free Library (LFL), a nonprofit organization whose charge is to inspire a love of reading, build community and spark creativity “by fostering neighborhood book exchanges around the world.” 

As of November of 2016, there were 50,000 registered Little Free Library book exchanges in all 50 states and 70 countries worldwide, according to LFL.

But whether the libraries are registered or not, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, there’s plenty of page flipping happening on the Outer Banks that doesn’t require a library card.  

Sixty or so miles south of Keating’s libraries, in Waves, Pamela Strausbaugh is in her third season of managing two little libraries of her own that sit side by side along NC 12 – one for adults and one for children. She has also installed benches nearby to sit and read. (See top featured photo courtesy Jane Fiedler)

Strausbaugh first discovered the Little Free Library movement after reading about them in Our State Magazine.

“It originated in Wisconsin, where I am from. And I’m an avid book reader, and love holding books [as opposed to reading them on a device].” 

Chris Stafford of Kill Devil Hills stands outside the Little Free Library she’s had in her front yard for nearly three years. She says she’s continually amazed by how many visitors it gets. Photo Michelle Wagner

It seemed like a no-brainer that she’d start a book exchange of her own. 

And her libraries hold a particular importance on an island where there is only one public library – located all the way down in Hatteras Village. “Realtors send people here,” she points out, adding that she keeps dog treats in the adult library and candy for the kids. She also decorates her libraries during holidays throughout the year. 

Like Keating, she also leaves a comment book in each of her libraries, giving guests the opportunity to share their thoughts about a book, the library or life itself. 

“This makes me want to read,” writes one guest. 

Another guest reflects, “This is such a wonderful idea. It shows that we are still connected to one another, not by technology but by books and trust.”

Visitors to Keating’s libraries have left similar comments, including this one from the Hillcrest library: “It brings a sense of community to this beach, and the books themselves allow people to relax even more and get wrapped up in a world other than their own.” 

For each of her little libraries in Southern Shores, which all come complete with motion lights for nighttime beachgoers, Keating has enlisted stewards to help with replenishing books. As for Strausbaugh, a few stories in the Island Free Press helped spread the word about her libraries and generated a lot of books. “I have a whole closet dedicated to books for the library.”

Avid readers and cousins Haley and Whitney visited Marsha Carter’s Little Free Library often during their vacation in Duck Ridge. Carter’s husband, Reid, designed the library to resemble an Outer Banks Lifesaving Station. Photo Marsha King Carter

Keating’s and Strausbaugh’s libraries, on nearly opposite ends of the Outer Banks, are not the only places to grab a book without having to check it out. Dozens of these book exchanges are sprinkled up and down the Outer Banks. One of them belongs to Tina MacKenzie and
Eric Reece of Kitty Hawk, co-owners of the Outer Banks Brewing Station. 

Tina says they got the idea two years ago after visiting her parents in Eugene, OR, where little libraries are abundant. “I pulled some plans off the Internet, and since our kids are homeschooled, I thought this would be a good project for them to get some practical skills.”

Tina and the kids started it, and her dad helped finish the little library now dubbed “OPA’s Lending Library,” which sits at the end of their driveway on Bob Perry Road. 

“The idea is that you take a book and you leave a book. And it really takes care of itself,” says Tina, who says she hopes to install another one at the Brewing Station in the near future. While she says that of course she wants to promote reading, “It was more for the sense of community and free trade” that her family took on the project. 

Jasper Reece relaxes near his family’s free library named after his grandfather, who helped them build the book nook at their Kitty Hawk home. Photo Tina MacKenzie

Keating points out that there are plenty of plans you can find on the Internet for building these quaint lending libraries. She and Tom had pulled one off of the Little Free Libraries webpage and modified it so it would withstand the Outer Banks’ harsh weather. Each library cost the Keatings about $100 each in supplies and holds between 30 and 40 books. 

Artists Barbara Noel, Carolina Coto, Kim Folds, and Dawn Moraga each painted one of Keating’s libraries. 

“I thought of my daughter and how much she’d love to find books in these,” says Moraga of painting the library that now stands at the Hillcrest Trail beach access. 

“I also just love the small-town feel these libraries have.”

One thing is for sure. The idea is spreading, not to mention the love of reading. 

“At these libraries, you can keep the books,” Keating says. “You don’t have to return them. Or you can lend books to the library. I think people really like that it is at your own pace, and that there are no rules to it.”

And as one guest wrote in the Hillcrest library comment book, “I stumbled upon this during my morning run and it absolutely made my day. We need more of this in the world.” ♦

Top feature photo: Waves resident Pamela Strausbaugh put these little libraries outside her home on NC 12 three years ago. The libraries attract book lovers all year round. Photo Jane Fiedler

Michelle Wagner

Michelle Wagner is the editor at Three Dog Ink and has been living and writing on the Outer Banks for more than 15 years. Contact Michelle

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