Cicero, the Roman politician, once said, “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” PEM’s recently renovated Ropes Mansion is now home to a fancy box and a national movement, thanks to one neighbor who had the idea to start a Ropes Garden branch of the Little Free Library just down the street from the Salem Public Library. Joining other boxes in Salem and around the country in parks and on front lawns, the miniature library serves as a free exchange of books.
The idea came to Cindy Johnson, a resident of Salem’s McIntire District, when she noticed people leisurely reading in the Ropes Garden and then wanted to do something with her summer reading pile. She reached out to another neighbor, Bill Larson, an artisan carpenter whom she admired for his various projects, including an elaborate doll house and a decorative box for his electric car charger that included antique stained glass windows.
“I can’t believe how much detail he put into it,” says Johnson, admiring the box that was installed November 1, with a brilliant blue door that shuts solidly and a visitor log that quickly included entries from all over the world.
Larson worked with PEM on acquiring the materials and matched the design with the Georgian Colonial style of the Ropes Mansion.
“I thought it would be a fun way to help weave something into the fabric of the neighborhood,” he says, “and it’s gratifying that people are really using it.”
On the day we visited, a woman from the neighborhood was dropping off an armload of books into what was building to be a good mix of fiction, non-fiction, children’s literature and self-help. The visit allowed this reader to acquire and savor every word of a bittersweet memoir. Then there’s the good reading to take in along the side of the box — the quotes that Larson and his wife picked out, coined by the likes of Groucho Marx and fantasy writer Neil Gaiman.
On his dog walks, Larson stops by almost every day to check the log. His oldest daughter recently left behind several hundred books when she moved out and Larson says he will use them to fill the library. Though he didn’t know about the Little Free Library movement before Johnson, his neighbor, asked him to build one, Larson now loves it and encourages all to use it and and to donate or as the little sign instructs:
“Take a book today. Leave a book tomorrow.”