The idea came to Susan Gustafson while watching the news one night.

It was February, and she certainly wasn't looking for an outdoor project. But a story on little free libraries caught her attention.

Having been a teacher for 33 years, she was always looking for ways to promote education. Now the second grade teacher realized she could do it in her front yard.

"I turned to my husband and said, 'That's what I want to put up,"' Susan says.

Her husband, Gary, spent several months building the library. "I'm not a carpenter," he says. "Luckily, this was pretty easy." It was up by mid-summer, and now neighbors drop by the library to find good reads Susan gets from family and book order forms at school. In a nod to his wife's passion for teaching, Gary built a cupboard that looks like a tiny schoolhouse. It's stocked with children's books and novels, ranging from War Horse to War of the Worlds.

The couple says 50 to 100 people came by the first weekend it was up. Entire families came to pick out books, and word spread around the neighborhood. Traffic has slowed down, but people still visit every day.

Neighbors have also helped maintain the library. "Our neighbor came to me and said, 'Gary, your door's not working right, and I got some things that will fix it," Gary says. "Another neighbor says she's keeping an eye on it to make sure 'nobody empties it out."'

On the side of the library a note suggests you need to leave a book to take a book, but books are not always replaced. "That's fine," Susan says. "If people, especially children, are reading, that's the important thing." While the "take one, leave one" policy isn't strictly enforced, the Gustafsons do look at content. They pull out anything with a lot of sex, along with religious texts. "We could fill it with our own religious books," Gary says. "But if you put that religious stuff in, it makes it harder for it to be for the whole community." So far, only two books have been pulled.

"We've met more neighbors through the library than we ever would have before," Susan says. "It really gets the community involved." The Gustafson's library is at 5269 W. Sprucewood Circle, West Valley City.

Voice of Experience: Build Your Own Library

After Gary and Susan Gustafson went online to get the basic dimensions for a little library, Gary drew his own plans to put it together. After trial and error, the couple offers these tips for future library builders:

Protect your grass. With the library a few steps from the sidewalk onto the lawn, the Gustafsons started noticing wear and tear on their grass. Put your library near concrete or invest in stepping stones.

Create a base. The Gustafsons attached the library to a baseboard and bolted it to a post in the ground to help keep it stable.

Prep for a storm. The library has a steel roof and weather stripping to keep it safe during the snow and mud seasons.

Use plastic. To avoid shattered glass, use plastic for the door window.

Find one, buy one, or get instructions to build your own at littlefreelibrary.org

Back>>>Read other stories in our April 2013 issue