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Free street libraries pepper downtown Chapel Hill

Greg Taylor was exonerated from prison in 2009 after spending nearly 17 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit.
Greg Taylor was exonerated from prison in 2009 after spending nearly 17 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit.

She’d heard of other communities setting up free small libraries in their downtown areas, and was driven to set up one in Chapel Hill.

One of her friends suggested using some of the green newspaper stands around town that hold free periodicals.

McGurk said she would take over the empty ones and turn them into free libraries.

In the early stages of the free libraries, McGurk said she would buy books from library book sales, but she no longer needs to because of community participation.

“I started off stocking them with books, but it wasn’t long before I would go with a bag of books and it would already be full,” McGurk said.

“I think right away it caught on with the community to share books.”

The first two free libraries began in January 2013, and a third was added a year later, she said.

They are located on West Franklin Street near Mediterranean Deli, by the bus stop on North Columbia Street and on East Franklin Street by Bevello.

Since beginning the project, McGurk said she has seen an increase in community participation when it comes to book donations.

“It’s a pretty basic operation — it’s free books,” McGurk said.

“It’s a little library where you take a book or leave a book.”

Last year in a press release, McGurk said she personally delivered about 500 of the books left through the Downtown Partnership.

She said that she doesn’t know how many books have been left by locals.

“Many other people are stocking books and taking books, so I really truly have no ability to know the number,” McGurk said.

The types of books in the library range from children’s books to UNC students’ textbooks left at the end of the semester.

During the winter, an anonymous “yarn fairy” even left knitted scarves with the books for those in need, McGurk said.

Camilla Rynkiewicz, a German exchange student studying at UNC, said she has heard of similar libraries but had never seen them on the street.

“I’ve never noticed them before, but it seems like a cool idea,” she said.

McGurk said the Downtown Partnership doesn’t directly partner with any other organizations on the project, but she has a steady flow of books donated by volunteers.

Chloe Eastwood, who works at Chapel Hill Comics near one of the free libraries, said that while she has never used the free library here, she has seen it in Quebec and said it worked well there.

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McGurk said the libraries are an opportunity for those who love to read to share their love in a publicly accessible way.

“We are a very well-read and academic community, so I think that it really resonates with a college town,” she said.

“There’s no questions about the books you take, there’s no cost, and certainly you can leave books for other people.”