BUCKHANNON - The word is spreading about Little Free Libraries.
The libraries are small, decorative boxes, each with a unique appearance. And they're showing up in more locations across the county. The concept is simple: Take a book and leave a book.
At these libraries, there are no late fees, or even return requirements, and there's no need for a library card.
Create Buckhannon brought the worldwide program to Upshur County earlier this year. The program promotes literacy, which is an important goal now more than ever as literacy rates remain alarmingly low everywhere, said Linda Feola, director of Literacy Volunteers of Upshur County.
Nationally, 20 percent of adults read below the fourth-grade level, and three out of four food-stamp recipients read at the lowest literacy level, she said.
Forty three percent of low-level readers live in poverty, Feola added.
Conservative estimates show low literacy costs $73 million a year in terms of direct health costs. And low literacy is strongly linked to crime. Seventy percent of prisoners in the United States are ranked in the lowest levels of literacy, she said.
Fewer than 10 percent of adults who could benefit from literacy programs are not being served, Feola said.
Four Little Free Libraries have been placed, one at the IGA in Rock Cave, one in front of the Chamber Visitors' Center on Main Street and one each at Washington District and Hodgesville elementary schools, Create Buckhannon member C.J. Rylands said.
Union, Tennerton, Academy and French Creek elementary schools also have each received a Little Free Library and have placed or are in the process of placing them, he said.
Another is ready to go in at City Park on Park Street and one soon will be placed along the Elizabeth J. "Binky" Poundstone Memorial River Trail, Rylands said.
Four more Little Free Libraries are ready and waiting for homes, he said.
"It feels like we're getting somewhere. A lot of times it takes a concerted effort and tenacity. Then all of a sudden, things just start happening," Rylands said.
Kristy Stewart is an Americorps VISTA member who works for the Literacy Volunteers. The group became involved in the project shortly after its inception in Buckhannon.
Stewart's VISTA assignment this year is to make sure 25 Little Free Libraries are in place by this time next year. Eventually, Upshur County's Little Free Libraries will be added to a worldwide map, which can be accessed at www.littlefreelibraries.org.
An avid bookworm, Stewart said she is pleased to be a part of the project.
"It brings communities together and promotes literacy. Every community should do it," she said.
Books left over from the Literacy Volunteers' annual book sales will be used to stock the libraries. Sponsors of the program are maintaining a "mini-library" to keep the Little Free Libraries in business, Stewart said.
"It's basically an empty storefront that's there purely for us to store books for use in the little libraries throughout the county. We have thousands of books in storage to stock them," she said.
Laura Meadows is director of the Upshur County Convention and Visitors Bureau. She said the Little Free Libraries add yet another unique personality trait to Buckhannon and Upshur County.
"The project in general is a fun concept. People are always surprised; you leave a book and take a book. It's that simple. It's so much fun to see people walk up to it and be taken aback. We see a lot of local folks using it regularly, as well as visitors. It's something you don't see everywhere," she said.