Little Free Libraries: Restore your faith in humanity, one book at a time

June 6 2013 | Guest post by Julie F.

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I'm totally falling in love with the Little Free Libraries. The idea is so simple, it actually works: take a book, return a book. It's cute, it's clever. It brings a community together, it promotes literacy.

Initiated by Todd Bol in Wisconsin, the first Little Free Library was built in memory of his mother who loved books and loved to share them. The concept was an instant hit in the community and he decided to share his idea through the web. People from everywhere are now building their own Little Free Libraries, contributing to the largest public library network in the world.

In my home town, citizens decided to adopt the model and build their own self-service libraries. Living in a dense urban area, you could think such an initiative would invite vandalism of all sort. Instead, it became a place of interest for the entire community: kids are leaving drawings of fictional characters, people are bringing back cooking books with sample cookies, others are adding post-its of appreciation.

It is said that a library owner once saw his door been taken apart by a stranger. He got out and yelled "Hey, it's mine!" to which the stranger replied "I know, I'm taking it home to repair it!" And this is how you restore your faith in humanity, one book at the time.

Do you use any Little Free Library in your neighborhood, or do you plan on building one?

  1. I love this idea! I first heard about it when someone put one in my small-ish hometown. I keep meaning to check it out when I go home.

  2. A group I am involved with put up a Little Free Library (LFL) at a local park. We need to restock it frequently because its used so much. We are looking at ways to insure that the Library is self sustaining (right now its basically group members that donate books at we are a pretty small group) We may work with a local mom/kids consignment shop to have them direct any unwanted books to us, and solicit more donations from the community. The community really seems to like it! Here is a link to a news article/pic of our LFL ๐Ÿ™‚
    http://www.stevenspoint.com/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=744&ARC=1580

    2 agree
    • AliK, you should totally hit up your local public library and see if they would like to partner with you!

    • I am surprised that this is being so hard for you. It has been my observation that people LIKE to donate books. It lets them clear out the clutter of books they are never going to read again while feeling like they are doing something good and avoiding the guilt of throwing away books. Do you have a sign on your Little Free Library encouraging people to donate books to it, possibly with a brief note on what sort of books are most popular? If not, maybe people don't know they are allowed to add books to the box?

      Talking to used bookstores might also be useful. They are often offered books they they cannot sell or books which they already have a good supply of. They might be willing to set up an arraignment where, after the bookstore buys what they can use, people selling books have the option to donate the leftover books to you.

      One of my local used bookstores has an option when you go to sell them books where they will just take everything you bring them, pay you for what they can use then donate what they can an quietly throw out the books the rest so that you don't have to. It's pretty great.

      • I agree. I managed a used bookstore for many years, and we always had people who left behind boxes of books when we couldn't buy them. We donated them to hospital, nursing home and prison libraries. If I'd known about this project then, I would have spazzed with happiness and gladly given books, or created a Little Free Library myself if no one else had done so. I bet if you have a used bookstore in your town, they'd be glad to help you out with your Little Free Library.

      • Our library does say "take a book, leave a book" but for some reasons the takers are outnumbering the leavers. (we even put cute little stickers on the inside of the books with our groups logo and contact info to encourage folks to return books)

        We will definitely look into working with the local book store and the public library to help with sustainability. Thanks for the ideas!

  3. I'm curious – why Little Free Libraries and not free public libraries? Instead of just a few discarded books, you have access to like every book ever! I'm all for more books and more reading in the world, but I wonder how awesome it would be if people donated books and time to their local libraries instead of these libraries? Or is it more about the sense of community, or the instant access, or the anticipation of finding some kind of surprise in the box?

    6 agree
    • I was all for this idea until I read this comment and was like, oh yeah! Why not? It's still a really neat idea and I could see it being awesome to just be able to be out walking the dog in my neighbourhood and be able to exchange books at a little free library. It might be more popular in a bigger park, but this concept seems to me like a really nice way to encourage a sense of community within smaller areas.

      3 agree
    • It seems like their demand and success would depend on their location. If it is already very close to the public library, it is redundant. But if the public library is the whole way across town or not easily accessible with public transportation, they sound like a fabulous idea!
      The public library in my town had "book mobiles" that came to school and business parking lots- basically a converted bus filled with books. Those were amazing, but having something permanent could have it's benefits as well.

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    • Donate time or money, not books! Libraries often have to purchase books that are specially-bound to last longer. They can order you books from anywhere, and they'll have a selection other than recent best-sellers!

      Plus, your local public college or university will let you use their library for free! You'll be able to access books on ANYTHING there!

      (Signed, a librarian.)

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      • Some libraries will take books, particularly if their turnover rate is low–the library in my small hometown didn't check out the copies very often, so they were happy to take any donation. But really, cash is the way to go if you want to give to your library, especially if your books are already in used condition. You should definitely call and ask before you haul in a box of books!
        Our public libraries take donated used books (and old books pulled from circulation) and host an annual book sale to raise funds. If you have used books you'd like to get rid of, you might ask if your library does this–and if they don't, ask if they'd be interested in starting!

        2 agree
      • These little free libraries cost several hundred dollars a pop – that would be a wonderful donation to a public library, wouldn't it?

        1 agrees
        • They don't have to cost several hundred dollars a pop. I know someone who builds them, and he reuses materials to keep the costs down.

          Also the original little free library was built in response to the slashing of library budgets and the closing of branches. The amount of money that people put into their little free libraries won't keep a branch open, but they will give people somewhere to have access to books if their local branch has been closed.

  4. There's one in West Chester, PA and there are a few that a local artist put up at the train stations out here, there are always books aplenty!

  5. Someone put one up in a park near my house, but they didn't put any books in it. I'm considering filling it myself. I really want to make one out of an old TV.

    6 agree
    • I love the idea of making one out of an old TV! I've been wanting to put one in my area for a while, but haven't made the time to do it yet. I was happy to see that there are a couple in my adopted state, though!

      1 agrees
  6. I saw something similar while I was in Marseilles, France last year. It was a large sculpture of a dinosaur with built-in shelves. I wish I had taken a picture of it while I was there.

    I have also heard of a larger-scale give-one-take-one library in Millennium Park in Chicago.
    I'm pretty sure that neither of these projects were part of a network, but just one-off community projects.

  7. Most Little Free Librairies are on private land: it's the home owner initiative and property. It makes the entire process of installing and operating so much easier and quicker!! Plus, as mentionned in other comments, it can be in walking distance for children and older folks. Win-win!

    2 agree
  8. My apartment complex has a table set up in the housing office like this–no adorable box, but similar concept. I think it's a brilliant idea, and one every apartment complex should implement! It's worked really well, since a lot of people leave a book when they take one. It's also a great idea for laundromats and shared laundry rooms.

    2 agree
    • In a laundromat? Yeah, that is brilliant! The comment about them being at train stops is great, too. I don't know about security concerns with it, but I think that having something like this in airport terminals would also be awesome–I guess the people who sell books and magazines at inflated prices in the shops wouldn't be so keen on this, though.

      1 agrees
      • I used to use a laundromat that would put out reading materials which patrons left. It was mostly magazines, but some books, and many children's books. And once the magazine was too used to keep on display, they recycled it. This was OK because university students were always leaving behind their magazines.
        This worked really well, in general.
        (They were also pretty cool in that they would show movies on the TV, and they had overstuffed chairs and couches to wait in.)

    • There's one at my rec center, too. Also no adorable box; just a table with a leave-a-book-take-a-book sign. ๐Ÿ™‚ I think this could also be fun in a breakroom at work.

  9. We have these throughout my city (Decatur, GA). During the annual book festival last year, people could bid on one that was painted/designed by a local artist and then install it in their yard. This is a big walking town, so it's fun to stop and check them or drop books off while you're out for a stroll. I have given a fair amount of books away and gotten a few good ones myself.

    1 agrees
    • I live in Decatur, too! I love it!!! The shop I work at made some of the little engraved plaques for the LFL boxes. Such a great idea ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. I think it's a lovely idea, and distinct from a public library (which of course is valuable not only for the books it lends, but for the other services it is a gateway for). Little Free Libraries offer the feel of a personal recommendation and a spirit of community lending, rather than a municipal notion of what might be popular or useful. It also taps into a secret childhood desire of mine to have a secret postbox, the only difference being that this one has stories in it … totally inspired!

    4 agree
  11. We have one in a median-ish area in my street. All the houses have the same architectural style in the area, and the LFL is build as a miniature. Someone even decorates it with lights at Christmas time. It's really become a great way for neighbors to connect.

    Also, I'm pretty sure there's an underground book trading ring among the kids in my neighborhood.

    1 agrees
  12. In my (German) hometown, there are three of those "free libraries" – two shelves and one tiny room standing on the marketplace, filled with shelves filled with books. I love it! And it helps me get more reading material without acucmulating too many books – everything I do not want to keep, I take there!

  13. My mom set up a LFL outside her house last year, and has really been loving it! We've always been a bookish family, and the household has bookshelves in every room, so as she is approaching retirement and wanting to simplify her life, having a community place right outside her door to slowly donate books to is really lovely. Every time I visit, I notice neighbors walking by and looking at the books.

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