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Dunedin promotes literacy through free book exchange sites

How many times have you been ready to cash out at a restaurant or store, and either contributed or benefited from the "Take a Penny, Leave a Penny" jar?

Well, Dunedin has adopted that same concept – albeit, with a slight twist and on a much grander scale.

Library officials on Tuesday morning unveiled their first "Little Free Library," a box where the public can reach in and grab a free book and, hopefully, pay it forward by leaving behind one of their own.

The 2x2 box, located on the Pinellas Trail beside the Dunedin Historical Museum, is the first of at least five Dunedin plans to roll out across the city.

The idea, said Dunedin library director Phyllis Gorshe, is to promote literacy, especially among children, teens and adults who are not regular library patrons.

"It's all about a free book exchange," Gorshe said. "It's just a great movement to encourage reading."

Gorshe says she encountered her first free library station in Minnesota and quickly realized that it's part of a worldwide movement that has spread to at least 36 countries. (She recounts the tale of a New Zealand traveler who picked up a book on the way to the airport, then later sent a return via snail mail).

Gorshe recently brought the idea to the Friends of the Library, which sponsored Dunedin's first station. Renowned local artist Steve Spathelf painted the birdhouse-sized box for free and Dunedin's public services department installed it.

Gorshe giddily exclaimed Wednesday that the station was already a success: Tuesday morning's stash of 26 books had dwindled to 16 books by the end of the day.

Library staffers will fill the boxes each week with donated works that the facility has decided not to include in its collection. And stealing isn't a concern: Patrons are encouraged, but not required, to leave a book of their own. And, well, it's impossible to steal a free book.

The city is searching for others who want to sponsor boxes, which cost about $765 each. So far, Gorshe said, the Dunedin Rotary has stepped forward as well as the Dunedin Youth Guild (which wants to install a box next to the Weaver Park playground the group recently donated money to build) and Dunedin's engineering department (in front of the city's 737 Louden Ave. building).

Gorshe said some people in the city are also making their own boxes to place in their yards.

Anyone interested in sponsoring a book exchange station can call Gorshe at (727) 298-3080.