Little Free Library: Take a book, leave a book

As public libraries and their budgets shrink across the country, one type of library is growing: the Little Free Library. Never heard of it? Look around near home. Your local library may be closer than you think.

Here in Rockville, I noticed my neighbor Judye’s immediately on my nightly power walks. The size of a large birdhouse, it stood about four feet high on a post and featured a see-through front door. A note inside explained that passersby could borrow a book and put it back or replace it with another.

What a lovely idea! According to littlefreelibrary.org, this movement dates to 2009, when Todd Bol built a tiny one-room schoolhouse to honor his mother, a teacher. “Free Books,” the sign on it said. Rick Brooks of the University of Wisconsin-Madison met with Bol and batted around some history and concepts, including industrialist Andrew Carnegie’s backing of 2,509 free libraries 100+ years ago, a Wisconsin librarian’s bringing “traveling little libraries” to 1,400 locations at about the same time, and “take a book, leave a book” collections in coffee shops and other public spaces.

Bol and Brooks decided to set an official goal of 2,510 Little Free Libraries by the end of 2013 to promote “reading for children, literacy for adults and libraries around the world.” The idea spread from Bol’s hometown to Madison in 2010. There were nearly 400 by the end of 2011. In May 2012, the founders made Little Free Library a formal nonprofit with a board of directors—and it met its 2,510 goal that August. About a year later, my neighbor Judye got hers. It’s No. 9,217.

Why? Judye has about as many reasons as Bol and Brooks: To honor her late mother, an avid reader. And her daughter, who earned her master’s in library science late in 2012. And because she “wanted to share my love of reading with others in my neighborhood and my community.” And because she was inspired by a Little Free Library a few miles east.

“Cookbooks don’t do well. Any current titles go quickly. Nonfiction and mysteries tend to be the most popular,” says Judye. “And of course kid books.”

Judye and others have added a journal to their boxes. “People scribble messages to me and each other,” she says, mostly thanks and recommendations. “This box is the highlight of our runs,” reads one. “It’s like book paridise [sic],” reads another, likely a child; just beneath is “Thank you!” in a more grownup hand.

“By January of 2015, the total number of Little Free Libraries in the world was conservatively estimated to be nearly 25,000,” the website says. “By January of 2016, the total number reached over 36,000.”

Over on Anderson Street, our neighbor Susan’s library is No. 20,497. Susan, 544 AndersonHer daughter-in-law is a librarian, so Susan’s husband built it and gave it to the younger couple for Christmas. “But she’s very private,” Susan told me. “They were horrified at the idea of people traipsing across their lawn, so they put it in their basement.” Susan took it back and put it on her own lawn.

“Children’s books go fastest,” she told me, but her box is filled with mixed adult fare: A Map of the World, In the Garden of Beasts (paper and hardback), Archy and Mehitabel, Small Ceremonies, True North. Susan pointed to one lying on top of the others. “Trash,” she said with a grin. “I just read that over the holidays.”

“It has been so much fun to have the LFL on our corner for all to enjoy,” Judye wrote. Her Little Free Library and Susan’s—just two within walking distance of me—show how Bol and Brooks are achieving their goals every day: promoting literacy, reading, libraries, and community.

Copyright 2016 Ellen M. Ryan. All rights reserved.

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One Comment on “Little Free Library: Take a book, leave a book”

  1. Matthew Says:

    Little Free Library’s rock! You can read about mine here: https://freelandlittlefreelibrary.wordpress.com/


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