Sharing books, building community
Andrea Hall-Hayes steps out her front door in Summerville, Ga. (pop. 4,534), and walks down the sidewalk to work. Her pace quickens as she nears a small wooden box mounted on a post on her neighbor’s front lawn.
“I can’t wait to open that little glass door and see what’s new,” says Hall-Hayes, 40, an avid reader who borrows two or three books each week from Little Free Library No. 1035. When she finishes reading the books, she returns them to the weatherproof box in Bill Barker’s yard.
Barker’s miniature library is among thousands that booklovers have erected in their yards, along bike paths, in community gardens and outside schools across America.
“I’m a book collector and covered up with books,” says Barker, 81, who read about the Little Free Library movement in a newspaper article last year and loved the idea. He hired a cabinetmaker to make the wooden library and keeps its shelf stocked with fiction and nonfiction, especially by Southern writers. Barker named it the Ann Barker Memorial Library to honor his late wife.
From his front porch, the library caretaker waves and visits with people who stop to browse the 15 or so titles inside the book box.
“There’s a lot of foot traffic here,” Barker says, “and I’ve gotten to meet some of my neighbors.”
Gift to the neighborhood
Boosting reading and neighborliness is exactly what Todd Bol, 56, had in mind when he launched the Little Free Library movement in 2009. In memory of his school-teaching mother, he built a library resembling a one-room schoolhouse for his front yard in Hudson, Wis. (pop. 12,719).
Bol added a sign—“Take a book, Return a book”—and was delighted when children and adults began making regular visits and taking photos of his miniature library.
“People feel like it’s a gift to the neighborhood,” Bol says. “I’ve actually seen people hug the library.”
When other book fans began building libraries on their lawns, Bol and his friend Rick Brooks established the Little Free Library as a nonprofit organization to map the movement. Caretakers who register their libraries for $25 receive a sign and number. The founders initially hoped to surpass the 2,509 large libraries funded by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie from 1883 to 1929, but now they envision tens of thousands of Little Free Libraries worldwide.
Brooks, 64, is thrilled that neighbors and groups, such as 4-H, get together for library-building parties, and that people discuss literature and form friendships at the curbside book boxes.
“The thing that’s gratifying is to see that a wooden box is a house of magic,” he says. “Sharing books is such a good idea.”
For Steve Madden, Little Free Libraries promote reading by getting books into the hands of children year-round in Bolton, Vt. (pop. 1,182). For seven summers, Madden drove a bookmobile twice weekly to Bolton, which doesn’t have a public library.
“There’s no real center to the town. It’s in the mountains and bisected by the Winooskie River as well, so there was lots of driving,” says Madden, 47, librarian at Camels Hump Middle School in nearby Richmond.
Last June, residents built five Little Free Libraries, which Madden stocks with a rotating selection of children’s books to encourage return visits. Plus, readers contribute their own books.
One young reader not only shares her latest favorite books, such as “The Unwanted,” but she created her own book-lending box.
Last summer, Jordan Liebich, 11, transformed an abandoned newspaper rack into a Little Free Library and parked it outside Riverstone International School in Boise, Idaho. Jordan painted the box bright blue and stenciled the school’s otter mascot on the side.
The sixth-grader says the Little Free Library, situated on a popular bike path, makes it “free and easy” for kids to grab a book, especially in the summertime.
“Reading opens up more of the world and opportunities,” says the book-a-day reader. “It makes you think more imaginatively. It makes you smarter. It makes you take in situations differently.”
A library park
Perhaps the biggest fan of Little Free Libraries is author Charlotte Endorf, 46, who transformed her front yard into a library park and gathering spot in Hadar, Neb. (pop. 293).
Her husband, Kevin, 46, built eight whimsical libraries, including ones shaped like a miniature railroad car and a horse. He laid a yellow brick “road” to the attraction, and bookworm Lela Newcombe, 98, donated a bench. David Cummings, 62, owner of the Village Inn Bar and Grill, installed a flagpole on his parking lot with a banner promoting the libraries.
The park bustles day and night.
“Little girls and boys come skipping up or riding their bikes and get books,” Endorf says. “One mom comes on a four-wheeler. Grandmothers bring their grandchildren here and read books. People even come with flashlights after dark.”
Endorf smiles and relates one “problem” with Little Free Libraries.
“The biggest question the kids have for me is, ‘I only brought one or two books and I can’t decide. Would it be OK if I take three or four books?’”
She couldn’t be happier.
Build your own little library
Building plans and tips for the book boxes are available at littlefreelibrary.org, as well as photos of dozens of one-of-a-kind designs by imaginative builders.