WASHINGTON11-Technology has given readers new ways to curl up with a good book, but the latest trend in Washington is surprisingly old-school: “little libraries,” stuffed with paperbacks, cropping up on front lawns. There’s no card catalogue or late fees. The informal lending libraries work under a simple principle: “take a book, return a book.”

You can bring back the same book you read, or put in a new one. “Last week, 11 new books came in,” said Kevin Sullivan, who launched his “little library” in Bethesda, a northern suburb of the US capital, in May 2011 on Mother’s Day. “It was a present for my wife, who is a big reader,” he explained. He started putting around 30 books a week in the little wooden house-shaped box perched on a red post at the end of his driveway. On its roof is a quote from Oscar Wilde - an homage to Sullivan’s Irish heritage - that reads, “The suspense is terrible. I hope it will last.”

Half of the books are for children. Since Sullivan and his wife live near a school, they think it’s great that parents and students “could stop at the library and get books.”

The concept first started in a small city in the midwestern state of Wisconsin, in 2009, as Todd Bol searched for a way to honour the generosity of his mother, a teacher, who had just died.  He built a small-scale replica of a school-house, which he filled with his parents’ books and posted a sign: “free books”. Soon his neighbours did the same thing at the end of their driveways. Now the little libraries have popped up as far as Ukraine and Pakistan.

In October, Bol sent 20 little libraries to be set up in Ghana. In India, he supports an aid group called “Going to School,” which aims to build little libraries for 3,500 schools. His “one little library” is turning into “15,000 libraries by the beginning of 2014, in 55 countries, in 50 states, at a rate of 700 to 1,000 new libraries a month,” Bol told AFP.