I've stumbled across what I think is the best new thing on Hatteras Island this year.
Maybe you have already seen it. It's in Waves.
Alongside the multi-use pathway that was completed last year in the villages of Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo, and Avon, there's a little wooden house with an A-frame roof standing at about eye-level on two white support posts. It's painted yellow and has a window in the front.
Sometimes, you can see folks peering through the window of the little house. Sometimes you can see folks opening up the window to check out the contents. And sometimes, you can even see folks sitting on the bench, flipping through the pages of books.
The little house is Hatteras Island's first Little Free Library. It was created by Pam Strausbaugh, who lives in the big house, also painted yellow and green, behind the little house.
The Little Free Library is a phenomenon, a movement that is sweeping not only the county but also the world since the first one was established in 2009 in Hudson, Wis.
It's based on a very simple concept of "take a book, leave a book."
Todd Bol of Hudson built the first one as a model of a one-room school, filled it with books, and put it on a post in his yard as a tribute to his mother, a former school teacher who loved reading.
"His neighbors and friends loved it," according to the Little Free Library website. "He built several more and gave them away. Each one had a sign that said FREE BOOKS."
The site says that Rick Brooks, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, saw Bol’s do-it-yourself project while they were discussing potential social enterprises.
"Together, the two saw opportunities to achieve a wide variety of goals for the common good. Each brought different skills to the effort, Bol as a creative craftsman experienced with innovative enterprise models and Brooks as a youth and community development educator with a background in social marketing."
The idea caught on and little free libraries started popping up all over the state of Wisconsin. By 2011, there were 400 of them. In 2012, the founders established a non-profit, tax-exempt Little Free Library group to promote the building of the libraries not only in the United States but around the world.
The mission of the Little Free Library is to promote a sense of community, reading for children, literacy for adults, and libraries around the world.
Today, there are estimated to be about 15,000 of them. That's amazing.
You can find them in front of houses, in gardens, in parks, at schools and coffeehouses, and just about any place that people gather. Inside the Little Free Libraries, you can find an eclectic mix of books for adults and children, large and small, hardbacks and paperbacks.
Pam Strausbaugh, who has lived in Salvo about six years, first learned of the Little Free Library from an "Our State" magazine article last December.
She loved the idea.
"I'm a huge book person -- huge," she says. She has an iPad, but she says "There's nothing like a book, the feel of the pages, the smell of it."
The Outer Banks Scenic Byway Committee had just finished the multi-use pathway that goes right past the Strausbaugh house.
What a perfect place for a Little Free Library, she thought.
You can purchase Little Free Library structures on the website, but Strausburg had a different idea. Over the winter, she enlisted the help of a friend, Rodanthe craftsman Steve Thompson, who constructed her Little Free Library and the accompanying bench.
Strausbaugh's Little Free Library opened on Good Friday. It's the second one on the Outer Banks, she says. The other is in South Nags Head.
Catastrophe befell the little library right out of the gate.
Two weeks after it opened, it was vandalized and all the books were dumped into a watery ditch.
Now that is hands-down one of the most dastardly deeds I've heard about in a long while. Who would want to vandalize a little house whose only goal is to spread a love of reading?
"Disheartened as I was," she says, "I restocked and reopened as soon as it was repaired."
Since then, the Little Free Library has fared better.
"I had no idea it would attract so many people," Strausbaugh says.
She watches people each day stopping to find out what purpose the little house serves and to perhaps pick up a book. One day, she says, she saw two older men sitting on the bench reading books.
She says that each day, there is something new in the library.
Her visitors are visitors and locals, old and young. She says she has talked to many folks who have been to other Little Free Libraries.
It's obvious that Strausbaugh really likes the idea that the Little Free Library helps build a sense of community in her adopted home of the tri-villages.
About 10 years ago, after vacationing on the northern Outer Banks for years, the Strausbaughs, who are from Meadville, Pa., built a home in Waves. Pam has lived here full-time for six years, and her husband, Mark, intends to move here when he retires from his CPA firm in a year and a half or so. Together, they operate a small landscaping business on Hatteras.
"We've been through so much in the last three years with the hurricanes," she says about the tri-villages that were just slammed with tide from another hurricane earlier this month.
She hopes the Little Free Library will bring the same cheer to her neighbors that it has brought to her.
"It makes me happy to see it," she says. "It just brings a smile to your face."
Although the tide from Hurricane Arthur inundated the Little Free Library, it's back in business now.
The only problem that Strausbaugh has with her project is keeping it stocked with books.
Not everyone who takes a book leaves one, which is just fine, she says. Many folks who take books are on vacation and don't have a book handy to leave. Sometimes, she says, they leave notes saying they will pay back next year.
She has donated many of her own books, shops online, and frequents thrift shops. Some folks also drop off books on her doorstep or next to the library -- one unknown person left a stack of bookmarks with photos of the lighthouse on them.
However, Strausbaugh could still use some more books.
If you can spare any that are in good condition -- paperback or hardback but no magazines, please -- you can drop them off at the Little Free Library, 25508 Highway 12 in Waves. Or you can e-mail Strausbaugh at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More information about Little Free Libraries and how to start one is available on the website, www.littlefreelibrary.org.