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St. Pete woman creates 236 'Little Free Libraries,' gets international award

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) – A St. Petersburg woman has received an international award for her work creating “Little Free Libraries” across her community.

Kristine Dowhan started a Little Free Library in a telephone booth at her home when the coronavirus pandemic closed public libraries. Dowhan said she is an avid reader.

“I always had anywhere from five to ten library books on hand, and the pandemic immediately cut the supply just when time to read in quarantine went way up,” she said.

Dowhan had an idea to keep herself busy and help others during the trying times.

“I cleaned out my bookshelf, put the books on a China hutch at the end of our driveway, had 20-30 people a day stop and take or leave books, and everything grew from there,” she said.

The addition of the telephone booth came from a man in Hudson who brought the booth from his home in New Jersey. The booth had a working phone for 20 years and he kept it in his kitchen.

The man’s son inherited the booth and sold it to Dowhan for $700. It now houses a unique little library.

In addition to the phone booth, Dowhan and her volunteers have upcycled old Tampa Bay Times newsstands around the area.

She had the idea because she wanted a dedicated children’s library, and said a newsstand to go with the phone booth seemed appropriate.

“The Tampa Bay Times had extras on hand that they were willing to part with. I grabbed two extra in case some friends wanted to join in. I ended up finding six who wanted to join, so I grabbed four more for a total of seven,” Dowhan said.

She said more and more people wanted to join in the Little Free Library movement and every last available newsstand was taken for their efforts.

“People continue to create libraries and join our steward Facebook group,” Dowhan said.

The network of over 260 stewards creating Little Free Libraries grew by word of mouth and Facebook.

The community response since Dowhan began creating Little Free Libraries has been positive.

“The positive energy is overwhelming, and I’ve been so grateful for the support of the project. It’s amazing,” she said.

Now that public libraries are open and coronavirus restrictions have lifted, Dowhan said she is thankful she never has to worry about book access for herself – and that other readers in St. Petersburg don’t have to worry, either.

There are over 200,000 books moving throughout the Free Little Libraries.

“I’m even more excited that so many other people now have access to books who may not otherwise. Not everyone can easily drive over to their public library,” said Dowhan.

Dowhan was one of six people who received the international Little Free Library award for her hard work.

Locations of Dowhan’s Free Little Libraries can be found online and donations can be made to continue the effort directly.

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