There’s a 99.9% chance you’ve seen one while driving or walking around. A precious little house on a stick with a door you can open and BOOM—inside, it’s full of books. What a beautiful world we live in. But do you know what these tiny book havens are, or where they come from?
These boxes of bookish goodness are called Little Free Libraries. Most of them are registered with the Little Free Library 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization; you can tell which are registered by the plaques they bear featuring their ID number. But even those that aren’t registered are still lovingly referred to as Little Free Libraries, because we are not here to gatekeep book access.
How did Little Free Library start?
The very first official Little Free Library was created in Hudson, Wisconsin, in 2009. A very cool dude named Todd Bol built a miniature model of a one-room schoolhouse and then filled it with books to honor his mother, who was a teacher and a lifelong booklover, and mounted it on a post in his front yard. His friends and family loved it so much that he happily made more to share with them.
The next step for Little Free Library was Rick Brooks, who was an outreach program manager at the University of Wisconsin. Together, Bol and Brooks decided to make Little Free Libraries their next endeavor. Andrew Carnegie once committed to creating 2,508 libraries; to honor him, Bol and Brooks committed to creating 2,508 Little Free Libraries by the end of 2013, a deadline they beat by a year and a half in August 2012. In 2015, they were awarded the Library of Congress Literacy Award. In 2020, they were awarded the World Literacy Award from the World Literacy Foundation.
Todd Bol tragically passed away in 2018 from pancreatic cancer. According to the organization’s site, “He remained dedicated to Little Free Library’s mission in his last days, saying, ‘I really believe in a Little Free Library on every block and a book in every hand. I believe people can fix their neighborhoods, fix their communities, develop systems of sharing, learn from each other, and see that they have a better place on this planet to live.’”
This year, 2022, Little Free Library hit the 150,000 library mark, which is truly incredible. And this number doesn’t even include the unregistered libraries!
What’s the point of Little Free Libraries?
Today, Little Free Libraries are about two things: community and book access. The main point of Little Free Libraries is to provide books freely to communities, especially those communities where getting books can be a challenge, particularly for children. According to the LFL website, 2 out of 3 children living in low-income communities own zero books. Little Free Libraries are a great way to change that. Anyone can start a Little Free Library anywhere (on their own property, anyway). But on top of that, LFL has their Impact Library Program, an initiative that strives to install and maintain Little Free Libraries in book deserts in the US and Canada.
Who can start a Little Free Library?
Anyone who owns land that the public might walk past can start a Little Free Library! A LFL does have to be on your personal property, and it has to be somewhere people can easily access it from public property. This is why most of the LFLs you see will be in someone’s front yard or by a business’s front door, right up against the sidewalk.
Little Free Library owners are called “stewards.” This language, rather than calling them “owners,” is meant to indicate the long-term commitment of opening a LFL. You can’t just install one and then never think of it again. LFL stewards are librarians, caretakers. It’s their job to make sure the LFL stays safe and clean and full of books!
How can I find a Little Free Library?
The funnest way (in some people’s opinion) to find a LFL is to drive or walk around and happen upon one. This is part of the charm of the LFLs—they pop up when you’re not expecting them.
But if you’re a planner, there is a way to seek out LFLs near you. Little Free Library has an amazing app that features a map where you can find all the registered LFLs near you! As a reminder, there are plenty of unregistered LFLs as well, so this map is not comprehensive, but it’s a great place to start if you’re unsure where your local LFLs are, or if you’re traveling and seeking out new LFLs as you’re sightseeing.
This LFL isn’t full of books. What’s up with that?
There are some small house-looking constructions, especially in cities and low-income areas, that don’t have books inside, but instead have food and other necessities. These are community food pantries run by amazing people to support their local communities. If you open up a LFL and find canned goods and other food items inside, be glad you’re in such an amazing community, and move on in your search.
Sometimes, you might open up a LFL to find that it’s totally empty. No books, no nothing. This usually happens when a LFL steward has moved away from their home that had the LFL, moved from the business where they built the LFL, or for some other reason isn’t able to care for the library. The best thing you can do if you find an empty LFL is to fill it! Go home, grab some books you no longer need, hop in your car, and go fill that bad boy up. You might even consider bringing wipes or other materials to clean the library up a bit and make it appealing to the community!
How can I engage?
The best way to support your local Little Free Library is to take a book, leave a book. When you have a book you don’t need or want anymore, take it to your local LFL, and perhaps peek inside to see if there’s anything of interest to you in there. The more that books are coming and going from these LFLs, the more people will want to visit again and again to see what’s new. Some LFLs even have social media accounts where you can follow to support them. You can make a post when you visit to share that LFL with your networks.
Little Free Libraries are amazing little oases of books that came from a wonderful initiative to make books more accessible to children who need them. We’re lucky that we all get to participate in taking a book, leaving a book, reading a book, and sharing a book. So if you’re wondering how to spend your afternoon, download the LFL app, see where the libraries are near you, and set out on a bookish adventure!
written by Christina Kann
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