Did you know that you could have your own lending library in your front yard? Or the lobby of your church or business? This is the idea of the Little Free Library (LFL) organization. All this started in 2009 when Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin built a little red school house as a tribute to his mother, a former school teacher, mounted it on a post in his front yard and filled it with books. People were invited to “take a book and leave a book.” Neighbors loved it, he made more of these for his friends, and a movement began. When Rick Brooks, a youth and community development educator at the University of Wisconsin with a background in social marketing, got involved, the movement took off. As of September 2015, there were 32,000 registered Little Free Libraries in all 50 states and in 70 countries. Evan Mark Zuckerberg has installed a Little Free Library at Facebook headquarters, in the form of a renovated phone booth.
I’d heard of these and even have come across a few in my travels. But what caught my attention was hearing of my son’s plans to place copies of his new book in some of the Little Free Libraries in our area. He even told me about finding one of these just blocks from our home, the only one, I discovered, in my zip code. It is pictured above. I suspect he will put one here and perhaps at the one nearby his home featured in a 2011 Dispatch article. These “Stewards” not only installed a Little Free Library, but even put a bench nearby so people could sit down and read. Since then they have sprung up all over our city, even in my neighborhood. Several elementary schools in a nearby school district secured a grant and installed Little Free Libraries in four of their schools.
The box owners (“Stewards”) may provide the initial collection of books for the Little Free Library, but the idea is that the collection quickly becomes a community collection. It all works on the honor system, where it is suggested that those who take a book, leave a book, perhaps not the one they took but one they have enjoyed. One of the benefits of this idea is creating neighborhood connectedness. Some Stewards have hosted block parties when they installed their Little Free Library. All of this feeds into the Little Free Library organization’s vision of “literacy friendly neighborhoods.” They even provide a toolkit for neighborhoods to organize around literacy.
The Little Free Library website is chock full of resources and stories and FAQs. You can order boxes, or make your own. It is recommended that you register your box, and when you do you will be provided with a box number, a charter sign and then you will be able to post your location on the site’s world map.
If your idea is to set up a library in a location you don’t own, you should clear this with owners and proper authorities. Even if you are putting this on your own property, it is probably a good idea to check with your neighborhood association, with local zoning ordinances, and utilities before you dig. The Little Free Library suggest that you might check with your home insurer about coverage and your attorney if you have questions about possible liabilities.
This seems like a great grassroots way community developers can promote literacy. Apparently 32,000 LFL Stewards agree. So does the grandest library of all, the Library of Congress. In October 2015, the Library of Congress honored the Little Free Library organization for promoting community literacy. Founder Todd Bol said, “For an organization that builds some of the smallest libraries around, it’s quite an honor to be recognized by the largest library in the world.”
The story of Little Free Libraries drives home the idea that fostering a literate society involves us all–children, parents, educators, neighbors, social organizations, community developers, and social entrepreneurs. What an amazing idea to come out of some scrap lumber!
If you had a Little Free Library, what books would you place in it?