No library card required

No library card required

URBANA — If you live on the east side of town and need something to read late at night after the library has closed, you have an option.

Head to Green and Anderson streets, where Mike and Maiko Lehman have built a little roadside library, offering books for people of all ages.

Their People's Public Library stocks nonfiction, fiction, DIY books, romance novels and other genres.

It's open all hours.

It's free.

And you don't need a card.

"Take a book, leave a book or trade a book," reads a small sign on the library.

Or keep the book.

As someone apparently has with "World War Z," the 2006 apocalyptic horror novel by Max Brooks that was adapted into a blockbuster movie starring Brad Pitt.

"That went pretty quick," Maiko said.

The couple had a "soft opening" for the mini-library in May. The next day, the Lehmans started to see people stop by to take or leave books.

"It's sort of gratifying how many people are using it," Mike Lehman said.

The University of Illinois doctoral candidate in history said their People's Public Library is similar to but "sort of distinct" from the Little Free Library movement, in which like-minded folks, mainly in big cities, have put up similar library boxes.

"We do incorporate a free exchange library, but the nuzbox is intended for broader purposes, limited mostly by the
imagination of the curator(s)," he said. "The Little Library folks pretty much stick to the
library and I chose not to go that way, because I intend the nuzbox to be a
neighborhood information center.

"Others might use it differently, say an artist or craftsperson might display samples
of their work. A church might provide literature or religious texts. A politician or
activist might focus on a campaign. The nuzboz is the Swiss Army knife for practical
exercise of free speech in a variety of formats. It does just about anything, but
you have to accept it's less than the ideal tool in some cases. Generally, I think
everything in a nuzbox should be free, although I could see some might make an
appeal for donations in some form. I don't."

There are at least two other little libraries in C-U. A Little Free Library opened in early May on Robert Drive in Champaign. You can follow it at

And one of our readers commented about a mini-library at 902 Westlawn Ave., C, in the form of a cooler attached to the residents' mailbox.

Lehman's "nuzbox" — spelled with umlauts over each vowel, Mike pointed out, contains, for the taking, pamphlets and other newsy material, including a brochure about Urbana's public arts program, a postcard about Nina Paley's quilt show at Sleepy Creek Vineyards, and a leftist newspaper published in Lafayette, Ind., by friends of the Lehmans.

Another thing that sets the Lehmans' library apart is the care Mike took in building it as well as its accessories.

Mike, who does woodworking as a hobby, added a small "browsing bench," a park-size bench and a refuse box. He made all of the items from pine and cedar, using recycled material when he could.

He attached to one side of the library box a latch for dog leashes and on the other side a hook for bags. He built a solar panel to illuminate the books and brochures at night, to allow for better browsing.

He placed all of it on a small "plaza" he built with pavers. Because the plaza abuts the city sidewalk, the Lehmans had to pay $75 for a permit.

Mike noted, though, that no permits are required to build a little library as long as it doesn't stand on or open onto a city right of way.

Another interesting aspect of the People's Public Library: the community bulletin board on back. Covered by a sheet of plastic as well as push pins, it waits for users to post news and other items.

The Lehmans reserve the right to remove inappropriate material at their discretion, as a small sign notes.

While the People's Public Library might seem "specifically ideological" as does the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center, they are not, said Mike, a media activist who founded WRFU, a micro-FM station that broadcasts from the IMC.

"We're more about what do you get when you give everybody a chance to say something," he said.

Indeed, the People's Public Library, as of Wednesday, offered a variety of books, not just left leaning.

Among them: "Leadership" by Rudolph Giuliani, the conservative former mayor of New York City.

Among other books for the taking, at least as of mid-week, were "Secrecy and Power: The Life of J. Edgar Hoover" by Richard Gid Powers and "Great Balls of Fire: The Uncensored Story of Jerry Lee Lewis" by Myra Lewis and Murray Silver.

There also were books about snails, worms and wetlands.

Lehman noted his mini-library and nuzbox go in a different direction than does the cutting-edge technology he's worked with at the IMC, often on an international scale.

"It's hyper-local for people not connected to the Web — and people who are connected," he said. "It brings a sort of different experience to the neighborhood. It allows people to have their say."

The Lehmans, who have been married for four years, were both military brats, meaning they have lived all over the world.

Mike is now finishing his dissertation on U.S. nuclear fallout and intelligence; because he knows a lot about U.S. intelligence, he posted on the sides of his roadside libraryfliers supporting Edward Snowden, the computer analyst who's seeking asylum after having disclosed National Security Agency records on U.S. surveillance of citizen phone records.

Maiko Lehman is a programmer at Campus Information Technologies and Educational Services, known as CITES. Because she has a good job, she basically funded the People's Public Library.

They estimate they put nearly $500 altogether into it. Mike noted other people could build a little library for $100 or less.

"It was fun, and it didn't take long to build," he said.

To contact the Lehmans or for more information about the library, email

Sections (2):News, Local
Topics (1):Books

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
pattsi wrote on July 08, 2013 at 9:07 am

Bravo. Maybe others will do the same throughout the community. As mentioned, this idea has happened in other parts of the country. Here is an example of the Sunnyside neighborhood in Portland, Oregon--a great, unigue area that speaks for itself--an environmental elementary school, local youth hostel has a grass roof, and the neighborhood poetry box.. Read about the neighborhood here and   and

Melissa Merli wrote on July 08, 2013 at 10:07 am
Profile Picture

Mike Lehman and I stand corrected. After my story was published on Sunday, a couple of people contacted me to tell me there is a Little Free Library on Robert Drive in Champaign. It opened after Lehman's and does not include a nuzbox, park bench, etc. You can read about the Little Free Library in Champaign at


jeknee wrote on July 08, 2013 at 10:07 am

There has also been a free library at 902 Westlawn Ave. in Champaign for at least a couple years now, in the form of a cooler attached to the residents' mailbox. I've dropped off books a few times there, and browsed when walking by. 

pattsi wrote on July 08, 2013 at 11:07 am

Briliant--these are already multiplying. Just imagine if these were peppered throughout the community, the Urbana Free Library would not have had to send the weeded books our-of-town, but could have distributed them via the LittleFreeLibraries and keep the books within the community.   :-)

caraf wrote on July 08, 2013 at 4:07 pm

Thanks for updating the story to include a link to the Robert Drive Little Free Library tumblr site. NG readers who go to the site will find that I post a new photo roughly every week, to show the changing contents of the library.