Share a Story at ISC’s Little Free Library

Jonesborough, Tennessee has all the hallmarks of a storybook setting, including mom-and-pop shops, plentiful green spaces, and brick-lined sidewalks. The town recently added a new feature to amp up its charm that’s very close to our hearts: a Little Free Library that’s an exact replica of our Mary B. Martin Storytelling Hall.

The miniature library is the latest in a proud tradition of miniaturized Storytelling Centers, which includes a gingerbread house from Christmas 2020.

The handcrafted structure, a repository for books that are free to all, reflects ISC’s value of building community through sharing. It was designed and built by Randy Thomas, a local artisan and self-taught furniture maker who poured more than 80 hours into the project.

Thomas, who has lived in Jonesborough for about 20 years, had his work cut out for him with the commission, which was to create a historically accurate likeness. This was the second Little Free Library he made for Jonesborough; the first was a replica of the Chester Inn, a state historic site and the headquarters of our ISC offices.

Thomas worked from photographs to nail the details of both buildings, including the slight imperfections of Chester Inn.

“You start off with a box and go from there,” he says with a laugh. “I took pictures and just beat myself to death trying to figure out how to do it. Every time I added something it seemed like it wasn’t right. There was a big learning curve.”

Thomas’s sister Beverly Jenkins (the founder of Main Street Café, which is across the street from ISC) contributed the clever mosaic on the structure’s chimney. She used small pieces of glass to emulate the bricks on the real building.

Another detail, the lettering across the front, was created by Fosters Signs, a local business, turning the Little Free Library into a real community collaboration.

As the “Storytelling Capital of the World” and the state’s oldest town, Jonesborough’s identity has long been inseparable from ISC and the National Storytelling Festival, which attracts more than 10,000 listeners each October. The Little Free Library is the latest addition to Jimmy Neil Smith Park, which also includes a special Storybook Trail for kids and their families. Experts have long touted the connection between literacy and storytelling. Children who hear stories from a young age are more likely to be enthusiastic readers later in life.

The next time you’re in Jonesborough, we hope you’ll include a stop by Jimmy Neil Smith Park to grab (or leave!) a free book.