Alexis Haralson looks at a book on Saturday from the Little Free Library located in front of her home in Aztec. Aztec is home to three little free
Alexis Haralson looks at a book on Saturday from the Little Free Library located in front of her home in Aztec. Aztec is home to three little free libraries, the most of any city in New Mexico. (Jon Austria — The Daily Times)

AZTEC — These boxes are for book lovers, not the birds.

You might think they are birdhouses from afar, but the roofed wooden boxes perched atop posts in Aztec are the smallest libraries around, minus membership cards or late fees.

It's part of a growing movement started in Wisconsin in 2009 by Todd Bol, who built a birdhouse-sized replica of a one-room schoolhouse as a tribute to his educator mother and put it on a post in his front yard, stuffed it full of books and placed a sign on it that read "Free Books."

It was a hit with his neighbors, so Bol built a few more. Soon the public book boxes began sprouting up all over the country and abroad in places like Pakistan, Africa and Iceland.

Called Little Free Libraries, the movement seeks to promote a love of reading and a sense of community. The nonprofit organization now has more than 12,000 registered Little Free Libraries around the world. And Aztec has added three to that list.

Designed like birdhouses, or box-shaped cabinets with roofs, the "take a book, return a book" libraries have become a common sight in Aztec thanks to Mark Everson, who teaches third through fifth grades at Mosaic Academy in Aztec.

Prompted by his friend Gordon Glass' enthusiasm for the community bookshelves, Everson tasked his students as part of a service learning project to design, construct, paint and install the libraries around town. By the end of the school year, students had installed a library beside their school and one at City Hall next to the splash area at Minium Park. Another went up in front of Diana Haralson's home on North Mesa Verde Drive, a couple blocks from Aztec High School.

Teacher Mark Everson checks on books on Saturday at the Little Free Library at Mosaic Academy in Aztec.
Teacher Mark Everson checks on books on Saturday at the Little Free Library at Mosaic Academy in Aztec. (Jon Austria — The Daily Times)
That library was in honor of Haralson's mother, who was a librarian. A fourth library was installed by a school in Cedar Hill, though that one has since been vandalized.

"The project was to bring together the idea of what a hero is and learning about needs in the community, which these libraries accomplish," Everson said. "And I get to witness it first-hand each day at lunch. One of my jobs is to be out on the playground at lunch, and I get to see the kids pulling books from it, returning them. Some kids ask me, 'Mr. E! Mr. E! Can you return this book for me?' Over the summer, it was used a lot, too. I'd stop by every few weeks and it'd be empty."

The birdhouse libraries were a collective effort. One student's father helped put them together. A teacher cut wood panels. Everson registered the libraries online at littlefreelibrary.org. His students also helped stock the libraries by holding a book drive at Mosaic, collecting more than 100 books to get the project started.

While Aztec tops the list of registered little free libraries in the state with three, there are also libraries in Tijeras, Sunland Park, Santa Teresa, Santa Fe, Los Alamos, Las Cruces, Corrales, Carrizozo and Albuquerque. One is located in Farmington, inside Chef Bernie's restaurant at 910 W. Main St.

Mosaic teacher Alissa Upton is planning on rehabilitating the library that was heavily vandalized six months ago near a school in Cedar Hill, Everson said.

While vandalism is a stubborn problem with the libraries in Cedar Hill and at Mosaic — the glass door was shattered six times so Everson replaced it with plywood — Everson is hopeful the public book exchanges will continue to populate Aztec.

"Each library needs a steward, to look after it and keep it up," he said. "One of my student's cub scout troop adopted the one at City Hall. Such an interesting side of it is how it connects people with books as much as with each other. I'd love to put more up. I love this idea of books available everywhere."



James Fenton covers Aztec and Bloomfield for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4631 and jfenton@daily-times.com. Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.