Duane Miller builds, paints and repairs all kinds of things in his home workshop in Eldridge. But his latest project, a Little Free Library, will connect the community to a national movement of book enthusiasts.

A number of the tiny wooden structures, filled with row after row of donated books, will soon pop up all over Eldridge. The friends group is seeking donations of the homemade structures until June 1, and then they’ll display them at the library and let the community pick the best one, before hanging them throughout the community.

The contest will make Eldridge the third Iowa location in the U.S. for book enthusiasts who want to stop and engage in the “take a book, leave a book” policy spread by the Little Free Library movement.

Miller, who said he was volunteered for the project by his wife and the Friends of the Eldridge Library, isn’t following a specific set of instructions. Rather, he is building his out of scraps from other projects.

Miller used a portion of a countertop from Habitat for Humanity ReStore for the floor and salvaged hardwood flooring for the walls and door frame.

“It’s a good idea, I like it,” said the self-described semi-retiree who lives with his wife and a cat in their Eldridge home. “We travel quite a bit, and a lot of campgrounds you go to, they’ve got take one, leave one. You pick up a magazine there, a book there or whatever.”

A worldwide movement

Nationally, the Little Free Library movement started with Todd Bol, of Hudson, Wis., and Rick Brooks, an outreach program manager at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Bol built the first Little Free Library to look like a one-room schoolhouse in memory of his mother, a teacher.

“I basically said there’s something more to this than just one library for one person,” Brooks said of his involvement with the project. “We brought some to Madison in the summer of 2010. It’s been picking up slowly.”

There are now little free libraries in 45 states and 20 countries Brook said.

“We don’t always know who is doing this, and every day, we probably get between 20 and 30 requests for official signs,” Brook said. “We got a request from Korea today, and we have a library built from Shanghai.”

Brooks said the ideas and photographs from the libraries have been pouring in from all over the globe as well.

“We have a giant rooster, we have one made out of a microwave, a gas pump, a beehive,” Brooks said. “We have some made for Haiti out of steel and rebar. They’re fascinating.”

In Iowa City

The closest completed Little Free Library is in Iowa City, and its owner, Christone Rohret, said she liked the concept of promoting reading and building community within her neighborhood.

“I see someone stopping to take a look as they walk or bike past our home about every other day,” Rohret said. “We’ve also had visitors from other cities around Iowa.”

Rohret’s family built the library out of 120-year-old barn boards from their farm in Cosgrove, Iowa.

“I dedicated our library to my 90-year-old dad, Harry Seelman, who was a successful farmer and avid reader his whole life,” Rohret said. “Therefore, the theme for our library is ‘All Things Iowa.’”

Her library includes books for preschoolers and school-age children as well as fiction and nonfiction with Iowa connections.

She said several of her neighbors have contributed books to the library as well.

In Eldridge

Although the final locations for the new libraries will have to be approved by the city, Sarah Carlin, reference librarian at the Scott County Library, said the city seemed receptive to the library’s suggestions.

“We’re thinking on the bike paths,” she said. “There are two in Eldridge, one that goes out toward Long Grove and one on LeClaire Road.”

So far, the Eldridge library has had just two submissions, but Carlin said other people have taken the instructions posted in the library, and she expects there will be a few more before the contest ends.

The two completed structures are on display at the Eldridge library, and Carlin said she was taken by surprise when she saw them for the first time.

“It’s really amazing,” she said. “I can’t believe someone’s actually made one, and it’s really cute.”