It’s hard to believe that it’s only been 10 years since the first “Little Free Library” was built by Todd Bol in Hudson, Wisconsin. That may be because the free book exchanges have spread prolifically since 2009, popping up on street corners and in front yards across the country. In fact, as of 2018, there are 75,000 Little Free Libraries in 88 countries worldwide—and that doesn’t even include those that aren’t registered with the official organization.
If you want to start your own “take a book, share a book” system in your neighbourhood, here’s how to get started.
Identify a prime location for your little library
To make a lending library work, you’ll want to set it up in a high-traffic location. Your front yard might be a natural fit, but you may also want to investigate alternatives. After all, research has shown that little libraries are typically placed in neighbourhoods where public libraries are plentiful—which is not necessarily where they’re needed most. That’s why it’s also worth considering an alternative libraries; if you’re not into books, you could also set up a clothes swap, a little free pantry, or a seed library.
Next, double-check the zoning bylaws for your municipality—and maybe touch base with your immediate neighbours to see if they have any concerns or even want to collaborate.
Build your dream little library
Pre-made little libraries are available for sale, but if you can build a birdhouse, you can build a lending library. Little Free Library has countless blueprints for download—including architect-designed structures—many of which are in the “Amish shed library” shape.
It doesn’t hurt to get creative, though. If it’s going to live on your front lawn, you’ll want to build something that’s not just functional, but eye-catching and inviting. For example, we love the library that American bookbinder and artist Sharalee Armitage Howard built by fitting a bookshelf inside a 110-year-old tree stump in her yard. We’ve also seen examples of libraries with reading benches affixed. Finally, if you’re working on a limited budget, considering repurposing an existing object: newspaper boxes, old mailboxes, breadboxes and even old household appliances make for perfect libraries.
Regardless of whether you keep it simple or go more complex, make sure your design is waterproof, accommodates a variety of sizes of books, and is available to withstand frequent visitors.
Curate your catalogue
In an ideal world, a little library would be a self-sustaining ecosystem—always full of fresh and interesting reads that would appeal to any age group. The reality is that people tend to rid themselves of books that few really want to read: Travel guides written 20 years ago, self-help books and romance novels.
Don’t just stock the library with dog-eared cast-offs from your cottage collection; choose interesting titles that will engage and grab the attention of passersby. As a library steward, regularly check-in on your library to ensure the books in stock include page-turners.
Cut the ribbon
Once your library is complete, you can opt to register it with Little Free Library, which will send you resources and include it on the global map. You may also want to host an opening party for the little structure. After all, you’ve built the library for your neighbours—which means there’s no better time to celebrate your community.