Across Cochise County, colorful, bathtub-sized boxes await those who are curious enough to peek inside.
Last October marked the beginning of Free Book Boxes in Cochise County — a federally funded project that has distributed more than 2,000 books in various locations across the county.
“People are really picking a lot of books and feeling really positive,” says Karen Fasimpaur, the Free Book Boxes project coordinator.
Little Free Library boxes have become popular throughout the country, where small boxes are set up and filled with books with an emphasis on the idea: take a book, return a book. But Fasimpaur isn’t concerned about returning books.
“We just wanted to get books out,” said Fasimpaur. “With how rural and large the county is we’re lucky to have a lot of libraries, but people still don’t have access to them.”
Fasimpaur has helped set up eight boxes throughout Cochise County, with two more planned. Every box holds up to 150 books, varying in genre and age appropriation, with blank cards inside for book requests.
“We had planned on moving hundreds of books a month, which seemed ambitious at the time, but we’re reaching that goal already,” said Amadee Ricketts, director of the Cochise County Library District. “The main goal is to get more books out into the community and into people’s homes.“
The project is supported by the Arizona State Library, Archives & Public Records, a division of the Secretary of State, with
federal funds from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. To date, book boxes have been placed in Whetstone, Palominas, Naco, McNeal, Double Adobe, San Simon and Dragoon, with the newest installation in St. David.
“I think that there needs to be more advertisement,” says Barbie Grapp, CTE director and librarian at St. David High School. “I go by and I’m like, ‘what’s that cute box out there?’ I didn’t know what it was.”
Fasimpaur and her team placed boxes in areas with the highest amount of foot traffic.
“We checked out locations where people stop a lot – post offices, schools, gas stations – we even have one by a bar near the border,” said Fasimpaur.
Each book box has its own signature artwork, hand painted by local students and adult artists. Fasimpaur reached out and found locals in the community to donate their time and creativity toward the boxes. Some responded to public posts, while Fasimpaur reached out to others.
A major concern with the designs was making sure the paint could sustain the elements. Fasimpaur said they thought of exterior house paint because acrylic paint is too expensive. Luck was on their side when a sudden large donation of acrylic paint was made to the library.
Ricketts says the community response has been nothing but positive, with many residents calling in to express their gratitude and donating large amounts of books. So many books, in fact, that at times the library can’t hold onto all them.
“Everybody needs to read,” said Grapp. “if you can read, you can teach yourself anything. … It doesn’t matter if it’s math or science or whatever, but having that access to books at home, is important.”
There are two more Free Book Boxes slated to open over the next couple of months, with no exact locations or dates yet. Keep an eye out for one in your community. Book donations can be made at each box as well as at the Cochise County District Library in Bisbee.
Deanna Sherman and Nick Smallwood are reporters for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact them at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
Click here to see a high resolution photos and a Word version of the story.