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Have you seen one? It might look like a birdhouse, but closer inspection will reveal a tiny library of books.

Visitors are invited to swap books, putting one in for every one they take out. No fines. No due dates. Simply swap your book for one you like.

The idea for these mini-libraries began in Hudson, Wis., in 2009 when Todd Bol made a wooden box to look like a one-room schoolhouse. He put it on a pole in his front yard and filled it with books, inviting passersby to take and read them.

Bol’s neighbor, Rick Brooks, teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Division of Continuing Studies. He works with community development and saw an opportunity to further literacy.

Bol and Brooks worked together on several more mini-libraries. Their idea took off, eventually becoming theLittle Free Library movement. Since then more than 30,000 of these impromptu lending libraries have popped up all around the world, from the United States and Canada to Sri Lanka and Ghana.

It has, in a word, gone viral.

Darrell Bauman, the construction manager for a large Habitat for Humanity project in my hometown of Kitchener, Ont., just happens to be married to a librarian. He worked with a few volunteers on a slow day to cut enough pieces to build about a dozen boxes. One of those libraries ended up in front of the office of the Habitat project.

Look for—or build—a Little Free Library near you.

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