Little library that could: Friends group gives new life to empty phone box

Heavy rain couldn’t dampen the mood of a small group that gathered to celebrate the Coupeville waterfront’s tiny new addition.

Heavy rain couldn’t dampen the mood of a small group that gathered to celebrate the Coupeville waterfront’s tiny new addition.

With a snip of a ribbon, Marilyn Thomas was all smiles Saturday morning, formally introducing the town’s new Little Free Library, a gift from the Friends of Coupeville Library.

The cabinet-like structure, complete with shingles and glass doors, was transformed from a non-functional, miniature phone booth to a functional little library filled with books.

It rests near the entrance of a tourist hot spot, the wharf, attached to the side of Collections Boutique on Front Street.

“These little free libraries are springing up all over the country,” said Thomas, president of Friends of Coupeville Library, a nonprofit group that supports the Coupeville Library. “It’s a wonderful way to encourage the community to read and share the books they’re reading.”

The concept behind the Little Free Library movement is to promote literacy, the love of reading and community by offering a free book exchange following the phrase “take a book, leave a book.”

More than 36,000 such libraries have popped up worldwide since the first one was built in Wisconsin in 2009, according to the Little Free Library website.

At least four have surfaced in Oak Harbor, including one in Windjammer Park and two in front of elementary schools.

Bill Haselbauer did the handy work in Coupeville. He modified the phone booth by adding a shelf, glass doors, new shingles and new paint using library colors. He also replaced some damage boards.

“It didn’t take a lot of time,” Haselbauer said. “It was fun doing it. Hopefully, it will keep the water out and keep the books dry.”

The “GTE” sign above the booth wasn’t disturbed.

The pay phone was functional up until May 2015 when the Frontier Communications shut it down due to lack of use.

Even longtime Coupeville residents didn’t realize that it was there.

“I never saw it with a phone in it,” Thomas said.

“I’ve lived here since 1967,” said Marilyn Engel, who attended the tiny library’s unveiling. “I don’t know if it’s ever been functional.”

The group got approval for the project from the Port of Coupeville, the owner of the building, which was built in 1887 and first served as the Gillespie’s Meat Market.

“I think the beauty of Coupeville is that we do appreciate the old,” Engel said. “And some of the newer people coming in do, too, and some of them want to change things. And that’s natural. That’s the way life is. You can’t stay stagnant.”

The little free library also is intended to remind visitors about the Coupeville Library, located nearby on NW Alexander Street.

Last Saturday, the little library was crammed full of literature — a combination of cookbooks, non-fiction and children’s books, and novels.

“We’ll restock,” Thomas said. “And we’re hoping when people read something that they like, they’ll just drop it off here.”