Ann Smith has loved books since she was a toddler.
Her book club, called “Books, Brunch and Friends,” has met monthly since 2002, and she is a fan of print — no Kindles or other e-readers.
“It’s always a book in my hand, book in my purse, book everywhere,” Smith, of Tacony, said. “I travel with books. I buy books constantly.”
During a road trip with her husband, Smith came across a Little Free Library, where passersby are encouraged to take a book and leave a book free of charge. It sparked an idea: Why can’t I do this?
Now, outside Smith’s house at 4314 Disston St. (at Algard Street), a sturdy metal box sits atop a wooden pole. A sign hanging on the pine tree in their front yard alerts pedestrians to the “Disston Estate Free Little Library.”
Smith’s husband installed the library on her birthday, July 13, and, since then, she has collected donations and frequently shuffled books in and out of the box.
Little Free Library, the Wisconsin-based nonprofit that supports the exchanges, now boasts more than 90,000 libraries in 91 countries.
Although commonly seen as a “take one, leave one” system, readers can also just grab a book or two or donate a stack of books without taking any, Smith said.
Other Northeast Philadelphia locations include a box at Verree Road and Alburger Avenue in Pine Valley and another at 4 Longford St. in Greenbelt Knoll, according to Little Free Library’s website. Smith said there’s also an unofficial one near Mayfair Memorial Playground.
Before installing the library, Smith knew some of her neighbors, but there has been quite a bit of turnover in recent years. Now, she knows most people on the surrounding blocks.
“I could talk about this all day long,” said Smith, who has lived on Disston since 1994. “It’s something that, this day and age, I think we need it more because it creates more community within the neighborhoods.”
Families with young kids have been especially appreciative, Smith added. She keeps a pile of children’s books on the box’s bottom shelf.
“People who cannot afford to buy children’s books for their kids can come here and pick what they want,” said Smith, who works overnight shifts in the facilities department at the University of Pennsylvania.
It hasn’t all been sunshine and roses.
Last month, the library was vandalized twice. Somebody — Smith believes kids ages 10 to 12 — rooted through the box, tossed some books around and ripped out pages.
What hurt most for Smith was that the vandals in the second incident, on Nov. 30, stole the library’s guest book, where visitors can sign their names and leave messages.
Most leave messages of thanks. One woman wrote that she is depressed and the library has helped get her out of the house.
Nearby residents, Smith said, have been vigilant. On Nov. 30, two neighbors chased the kids away, and they have been keeping an eye on the library. In an interview Wednesday, Smith said she and her husband planned to install a security camera this past weekend to deter would-be vandals.
Mostly, though, it’s been a positive experience. The library is open day and night, thanks to a motion-sensing light. Currently, there is a trove of Christmas books, along with the usual cast of novels.
Smith maintains a presence on Facebook, where the library’s page has 336 followers. She posts photos of the shelves to let people know what’s in stock and shares literature-related news.
“I try to get a grasp of what everybody likes,” Smith said. ••
Jack Tomczuk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.