Audrey Fraizer

Audrey Fraizer

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By Audrey Fraizer

Richmond Ambulance Authority (RAA), Va., is in its second year of offering a unique drop-off/pickup program in an ambulance built to withstand all weather.

Benefits include a 24/7 schedule and room for up to 50 passengers. No fuel is required, and because passengers sit on wooden planks arranged on two levels inside a vehicle also made from wood, expenses are kept to a minimum. Lights flash only when the doors open. The design does not include sirens.

“We wanted to keep it neighbor friendly,” said RAA Chief Operating Officer Rob Lawrence.

The vehicle, however, does have its drawbacks. It is stationary, and the interior space isn’t large enough to actually carry people. Anyone attempting to enter the space would certainly bump a head or knee. The best way for access is an arm because, after all, this vehicle is a library that accommodates hardcover and paperback passengers as a registered affiliate of the Little Free Library book exchange program. At 4 feet long and 2 feet wide, the RAA book exchange is larger than most libraries in the system.

“We wanted to start big,” said RAA System Status Controller Rebecca Szeles, EMD, who with RAA Paramedic Jennifer Norment, put the idea in motion as part of the RAA Wellness Program.

Once the project was approved, Szeles volunteered her husband, Steve, to bring the project to lending life. The Richmond police officer built and painted the little library in the image of a RAA fleet ambulance and drafted Dan Fellows, RAA Fleet Manager, to install the electronics needed to make the installed lights flash. Fellows, a fiction writer, contributed the first book.

The RAA EMS Little Free Library, which operates on an honor system, has proven to be a top seller.

“We’ve been through about 500 books in the two years since it was built,” Szeles said. “People take a book, leave a book, and if they don’t have a book to leave, they can bring one by the next time.”

The RAA Wellness Committee is, for all practical purposes, the librarian staff. They straighten the two shelves of books donated by RAA personnel and the public and place library-like stickers in each book as a reminder to return when done for others to enjoy. They try to keep their selection current.

“‘Star Wars’ books went flying off the shelves when the movie was released,” said Szeles, who also maintains the separate and indoor RAA employee wellness library.

The RAA Little Free Library is part of a nonprofit program that Todd H. Bol unintentionally started five years ago when he assembled scraps of wood to create the first freestanding book exchange in memory of his mother and in the interest of encouraging communities to read. He started by giving away 30 books, and, as of January 2016, Bol’s tribute in 2010 has stacked up more than 36,000 Little Free Library book exchanges around the world.

Although a wooden box and books are all it takes to get started, these small libraries have taken a departure from the original schoolhouses model and branched into designs complementing the lender.

Lawrence hasn’t heard of other local public service agencies picking up on the idea, although he had his hopes up.

“In my heart of hearts, I thought the fire department would take the bait,” he said. “They haven’t.”

Szeles doesn’t anticipate a second—or branch—RAA EMS Little Free Library. The first was a time-consuming job to build and stock, and other Little Free Library book exchanges in the area can pick up any of the slack.

Lawrence said the public has welcomed the library located at the RAA EMS headquarters for reasons that also include convenience.

“We watch people show up all the time,” Lawrence said. “We get lots of bikes. It’s on the same route as the breweries.”

For more information, the Little Free Library book exchange website at explains how to become part of the “take a book, return a book” network and where to find libraries closest to your neighborhood.