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"Little Free Libraries" like Anderson's are popping up all over the country and beyond, part of a fledgling global movement to build community and foster literacy through book-sharing.

They are like Redbox for books, but they are free. There's no need for a library card, no due date and no fines. Kids don't have to wait for an adult to take them to the public library if there's a "LFL" box down the street or around the corner.

"It's like a little box of magic whenever you open the door and see what's inside," said Todd Bol, who started it all in 2009 when he built and installed a little little red schoolhouse filled with books outside his Wisconsin home as a memorial to his mother.

Garage sale

It went unnoticed until he held a garage sale a year later. Strangers became so excited that word spread.

His first efforts to build and market them fizzled, but when he started installing them in strategic public places, the media took notice and the idea went viral.

Bol already has surpassed his goal of creating as many little free libraries as philanthropist

Andrew Carnegie, who built 2,509 full-size public libraries more than 100 years ago.

Some 16,000 from as far away as Ghana are registered at littlefreelibrary.org. There are eight registered in Sonoma County, in Cotati, Forestville, Guerneville, Petaluma, Santa Rosa and Sonoma.

Anderson, who threw an official library opening block party earlier this month, is too new to appear on the registry.

But already she's amazed at the quality of the offerings left in her "Clean Well-Lighted Box for Books," named for a short story by Ernest Hemingway. She finds authors from James Clavell and Jack London to Sherman Alexie and George Eliot.

"If I had unlimited time, I'd be happy to read two-thirds of the books that have landed here, which is pretty amazing. I'm not getting old textbooks and Reader's Digest condensed books," said Anderson, a lifelong reader who worked as a children's and reference librarian in Marin County and more recently as a medical librarian for Sutter Health.

People can buy a pre-made box from Freelittlelibrary.org, choosing among a range of styles from a chalet to a two-story "brownstone" to a red British phone booth. Prices start at $174.95 for a basic.

But a Pinterest search shows an astonishing range of creative custom iterations, from a toadstool to a black cat to Dorothy's house from "The Wizard of Oz" perched on a tornado made of twigs.

Bulletin board, too

Retired Sonoma State University English professor J.J. Wilson erected one of the first official Free Little Libraries outside her Penngrove home near the neighbood mailboxes three years ago, and put up a community bulletin board beside it.

"This is so natural to me," said Wilson, who also maintains a free library for women called "The Sitting Room" out of her home.

"When I was a child, I lived on a big farm. I had a lot of books, but other kids did not. On the back porch was a wonderful bookcase. I would put the books out there and people did take them and give them back."

Although some Little Library stewards weed out unwanted titles, Wilson said she welcomes whatever appears.

"I'm just glad to see people reading," she said.

"I'd be happy to see comic books as far as that goes."

Most boxes hold 25 to 50 books on one or two shelves.

As his sixth-grade community service project, Hogan Dinsmore of Petaluma ordered an unfinished Amish-style box, finished it with his dad, stocked it with books and watched the neighbors begin to drive up or walk by to peek inside.

One weekend it got tagged with chalk, and some people leave trinkets.

Mom Edie Chaska said she plans to put out a chair so users, many of them seniors, can comfortably sit while they pore over the titles.

Chris Cates says she gets at least three to four visitors a day to her Little Free Library in Santa Rosa's Burbank Gardens neighborhood. Her husband Archie built it to echo their California bungalow, with a roof that resembles the back of an open book.

"A couple times a week I go out and straighten the shelves. If I notice some books have been around a long time, I switch them out with extras to keep it fresh and inviting for people who might stop by," she says.

"Frequently when I'm in the yard, people will stop and say 'This is such a great idea.' I've been kind of surprised at how much enthusiasm people have for it."

(You can each Staff Writer Meg McConahey at meg.mcconahey@pressdemocrat.com or 521-5204.)