For about a year, all sorts of friends and strangers have been taking books from Charleston resident Fred Herrmann.

And that's the idea.

From his house on Logan Street, Herrmann operates what is believed to be the only "Little Free Library" in the Charleston area.

"I started it with my books," he said. "But it's been self-sustaining and has been for about 10 or 11 months. It's crazy."

The little free library "movement" dates to 2009, when Todd Bol of Hudson, Wis., built a tiny model of a single-room schoolhouse on a pole as a tribute to his school teacher mother. He stuffed it with books to be given away free to anyone passing by. Almost overnight the idea went global.

Today, there are more than 10,000 of the free library sites around the planet as advocates use them to promote education, for book-swapping and green recycling of literary knowledge.

That's sort of how Herrmann, 69, got started. As a Wisconsin native and avid reader, he saw an article about it in his University of Wisconsin alumni magazine. He went online to the Little Free Library website and studied the plans. Seventy-five dollars later, his version went up outside his house at 65 Logan St. downtown.

Part of his motivation was that his house had become overrun with books. In no time, his books were jumping off the shelves. Then his neighbors started coming by to leave their books to help keep the idea sustainable.

"People would stop their cars and leave three or four books and drive off," said Herrmann, an avid cyclists who retired to Charleston 19 years ago after owning a software company in Dallas.

The library boxes resemble over-sized bird houses. They are about four to five feet tall, with space left for the books to be aligned on shelves inside. A glass covering allows peekers to look inside.

Some of the boxes are more ornate than others; it's left up to the individual to design or localize.

All sorts of books go into circulation. A fictional book on zombies attacking plane-crash survivors that was left last month was claimed and gone in a day or two. Children's books don't last a few hours as neighborhood children check the box on daily rounds.

While Herrmann estimates that 100 books a month "come and go," only a few never get picked. Among the longtime "orphans" are "The Political Life of Medicare" and O.J. Simpson prosecutor Marcia Clark's "Without a Doubt."

Books on political thought also are left to die. No one wanted books by South Carolina's former Republican U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, or the more liberal Thomas Frank either, Herrmann reported.

Otherwise, Herrmann said the experience has been overly positive, especially as his neighbors came on board. At times, when the box was left in disarray, someone else has visited and neatly re-stacked the insides, he said.

"Probably the best thing is I've met six or eight neighbors that I didn't know before," he said.

For more information on the process and seeing building plans, visit

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551