SEMINOLE HEIGHTS — Outside the house Tim Heberlein and his wife, Caitlin Cook, have lived in for the past two years, a bright blue box made of wood and other recyclable materials is filled with books ranging from the Constitution to cookbooks, waiting to be flipped through or taken, replaced or put back.
The book box, which was inaugurated on Sunday, is the fourth such box in the Tampa Bay area designed to create a community-based approach to book sharing. It's based on a national trend called "little free libraries," which is catching on in urban areas.
The concept is simple, said Mitzi Gordon, founder of the Bluebird Book Bus and Open Book Exchange. Members of the community can stop by the boxes, peruse its selections and take a book. They can replace it with one of their own, if they'd like, but they don't have to.
Each box has a steward who adopts it and is tasked with making sure the boxes stay replenished and diverse.
Heberlein and his wife, both 31, decided to host a box outside their home, across from Giddens Park, where they frequently see children passing by.
"You go into someone's house and see what's on their bookshelf and you can kind of scope out what they're interested in," Heberlein said. "This is sort of like being able to do that for the community. Everyone gets that shared experience and shared book they read. And you might interpret it in two different ways, but you're connected through that shared experience."
They contacted Gordon, a Tampa artist, writer and a longtime friend, who was looking to create a box. Gordon, 37, who is not a fan of e-readers, came up with the project to share her love of books and reading with the community in an accessible way.
"It was a way to promote tangible books as treasures of art and literature," Heberlein said. "We want to encourage people to read, and also take in the joy of holding a book, the way the paper smells."
The brightly colored boxes, designed from recycled materials by Gordon's friend Mishou Sanchez, are also located in Sulphur Springs, Safety Harbor and St. Petersburg.
For now, Gordon said she chooses the locations to place the boxes, because it takes her about three months to create each box. But as more people get involved, she said she'd like to expand her locations.
Florence Marsan, a Seminole Heights resident and member of Friends of the Library, who contributed to the total donation of more than 50 books on Sunday, said community-based libraries provide more accessibility to everyone in the community.
"A lot of people don't want to step into a library for one reason or another," she said. "But they should still have access to books. And even if they don't replace it, a good book is a good thing to steal, if it's something they really need."
Gordon said the boxes at the other three locations are still sustaining themselves and thinks the Seminole Heights community will be receptive to it.
"As the community gets involved, it can naturally take shape," she said. "It's more organic. It becomes what you make it — what the community chooses to make it."
Divya Kumar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.