CARRIZOZO – This Lincoln County town has two major highways, 984 residents and, contrary to popular misconception and poor spelling habits, only two “Z”s.
‘Zozo, as it’s often known, is noted for its plentiful examples of adobe Craftsman-style architecture and as the place Denzel Washington shoots the livin’ heck out of in the movie “The Book of Eli.”
Lately, it is becoming known for pop-up lending libraries.
Jim Boswell, a 64-year-old who is winding down a career in the electronics industry, moved to Carrizozo in 2010 to semiretire and enjoy a life change.
“The peace and quiet is great,” says Boswell, 64. “The views are absolutely spectacular. I know my neighbors. I’ve always lived in big cities before here and I never had any sense of community whatsoever. My neighbors were strangers to me, and I was in the rat race with the job and the travel and all of that. This is just different.”
Carrizozo had one drawback, though. It has no library.
“When I moved here, that was one of my big frustrations,” Boswell told me. “I’m a big reader.”
So he made the trip to the nearest libraries – in Ruidoso about 30 miles away and in Capitan about 20 miles away.
He also bought a lot of books. After a year and a half, that got old.
A friend of his, a librarian, told him about Little Free Libraries, the leave one/take one community boxes that have caught on all over the world.
He thought that might solve Carrizozo’s library problem. “I looked into it, and I thought the only way to know is to try it,” Boswell says. “So I built one. And I put it up and announced it, and I just watched to see what happened. And people started coming.”
Carrizozo now has five little libraries up and another eight being built that should be up around town soon. With a ratio of 13 little libraries to 984 residents, Carrizozo must be one of the nation’s Little Free Library leaders.
Boswell treated me to a library tour, and outside Rick Geary’s beautiful Craftsman home stood a mounted wooden box befitting a cartoonist whose work has appeared in MAD magazine, National Lampoon and graphic novels. One on each side, Geary had painted cats – a she-cat outfitted in a fancy dress and a he-cat sporting an elegant suit. Both cats were reading books.
Inside Geary’s library box was a fine, eclectic assortment of hardbacks and paperbacks. But one caught my eye – an early Donna Tartt novel I’ve been meaning to read.
“I’d kind of like to take that,” I told Boswell, “but I don’t have one to give.”
“Take it,” he said.
“Absolutely,” he said. “That’s what it’s for. Welcome to the Little Free Library.”
I had my doubts about whether a town full of people with different interests could manage to find books to their liking – and whether they could adhere to the “leave one-take one” honor system.
Boswell said it all works out organically, and from what I saw it does.
Inside Boswell’s little library, a whimsical box made entirely from scrap wood with a glass door, there were about 30 titles.
Sue Grafton’s “V is for Vengeance,” a “Disney High School Musical” installment, Dave Egger’s “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius,” a Stephen King paperback, “The Morris Dees Story” and “Eichmann in Jerusalem,” which I also would like to have taken, but I didn’t want to get a reputation around Carrizozo as the book hog from the big city.
Boswell, who hadn’t looked at his library in a couple of weeks said he recognized only about five of the titles as ones he put there, which meant that around 25 of his books had been borrowed and they’d been replaced by about 25 that had been lent.
“So I think we’re meeting our objective,” he said.
Little Free Libraries have obviously answered a need. But they can’t house encyclopedias or Internet-connected computers, they can’t give schoolchildren a place to get lost in literature and enjoy air conditioning during the long, hot summer, and they can’t offer a card catalog full of fiction and nonfiction.
For that, Carrizozo needs a real library.
And Boswell – along with a host of others – is working on that.
They’ve already got a building, an amazing one. When she lived in Carrizozo in the 1960s, heiress Jackie Spencer Morgan donated the funds to build a massive community recreation center, complete with an eight-lane bowling alley. The building sits in the center of town and, with its groovy lava rock facade, it looks like Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. should be standing inside sipping martoonis.
The 15,000-square-foot building has been closed since 2008, but it’s being renovated with city funds and 3,200 square feet is being turned over for a library.
Boxes and boxes of books are being sorted and cataloged, Boswell is writing grants to get funding for shelves, tables, chairs, computers and more books and periodicals. Optimistically, Carrizozo hopes to have its library opened by summer and staffed by its Friends of the Library group. In this book-loving town of fewer than a thousand, the group already has 50 members.