On a recent sunny afternoon, an excited group of children from Boutte gathered for a housewarming around a colorful little cottage that had just been raised on their front lawn. With eyes wide and minds open, the children approached the little house one by one to see what was inside.
It looked like a bird house, but it wasn’t for the birds. This house had seeds of a different kind for the children: books.
In recent weeks, the St. Charles Parish Housing Authority has installed two Little Free Libraries in St. Charles Parish’s public housing units, one in Boutte and the other in Hahnville, to help encourage local children to read. Kids can “take a book, return a book” from one of the tiny libraries at any time.
Little Free Library (www.Littlefreelibrary.org) is a nonprofit literacy project that encourages communities to put up book-filled Little Free Libraries around the country. Individuals, clubs and organizations can order ready-made structures or easy-to-build plans for the units. As of September, there were more than 32,000 Little Free Libraries registered worldwide. As of October, there are two more — believed to be the first installed in public housing units in Louisiana. The idea came to Celeste Uzee, the director of special communications and special projects at Tulane University, as she was driving Uptown one day.
“I kept seeing the one on Oak Street,” she said. “I passed it all the time and thought it was such a cool concept.”
Uzee, the daughter of a librarian, also happens to be on the board of trustees for the Housing Authority of St. Charles Parish, as well as the board of the St. Charles Parish Public Library. She suggested it to the Housing Authority.
“I suggested it might be a good idea for our public housing developments,” Uzee said. “We have fantastic libraries in St. Charles Parish, but we don’t have public transportation. The lack of transportation keeps a lot of kids from going to the libraries. I suggested the public housing units because of the higher population of children there.”
And the idea was simple and easy, she said.
“It was just a matter of putting up the boxes,” Uzee said. “I told them I would get the books, all they had to do was put up the boxes.”
After ordering a pair of boxes from littlefreelibrary.org, Uzee gathered donations of children’s books from friends, neighbors and colleagues.
“They (the boxes) encourage people to come outside,” Uzee said. “They encourage people to meet their neighbors. They encourage people to go in their own neighborhoods. It’s a really simple concept. You take a book. You read a book. You put a book back. In such a complicated and technologically advanced world, sometimes it’s the simple things that work best.”
Uzee said she hopes to see more Little Free Libraries pop up around the parish.
“I really hope the people in St. Charles Parish will embrace the concept and start a movement,” she said.
Lori Lyons reports on the River Parishes. Send information on news, events, accomplishments and story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.