NewsPinellas County


Snell Isle couple builds front-yard library to reconnect with neighbors during pandemic

27 book-loving friends also opened libraries
Posted at 1:31 AM, Jul 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-21 10:39:27-04

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Kristine and Michael Dowhan were anxious and lonely.

Stuck inside their Snell Isle home, they were also a little bored.

"This has been a very rough quarantine for us," says Kristine, whose father and stepmother both battled coronavirus.

Her husband Michael is living with one lung, which means the threat of contagion has kept him housebound for a long time.

"I've left the house twice since the middle of March," Michael says. "That lack of community, some of us are feeling it way more than others."

So the couple, who work in the banking and tech sectors, did what most people would do in their situation: open a free little library on their green grassy front yard.

Wait, what?

"You get a little library on your front yard, and now everybody that walks by, and waves, and you chat a little bit," laughs Michael.

Their "main" library is made out of a 1940s phone booth they bought on Craigslist. It was originally housed in a New Jersey drugstore.


Take a book! Leave a book!

Next to the phone booth is the children's section, housed in a repainted newspaper box, one of dozens donated by the Tampa Bay Times.

Not only do the Dowhans get a lot of visitors, they convinced 27 other friends in the community to open tiny libraries of their own, using the rest of those Times boxes.

They call their group the St. Pete Shush.

"It all started with a China hutch I found on the side of the road," says Kristine.

Craving connection with her neighbors, she brought the furniture home, stuffed it with books and put it at the end of their driveway.

Right away dozens of people stopped by. One of them, a stranger, left a little red book with a note thanking the Dowhans for the library.

That book and note left a big impression. Something special was happening.

"That's when we knew it was time to make something permanent," Michael says, the phone booth looming behind him.

Searching for a local connection, the Dowhans managed to go worldwide.

The Little Free Library program, which spans the planet, made the Dowhans & Co. charter members.

Now you can search for all 28 local free libraries on a global map.