Little Free Libraries

There are few things this world’s seven continents share, but a Little Free Library is among them. This statement wouldn’t have been accurate before 2020, when Antarctica joined the other six by acquiring its first one. The southernmost Little Free Library happens to be a hand-crafted gift from a fellow Coloradan, Dr. Russell Schnell, an atmospheric scientist with NOAA and Nobel laureate, who has experienced the long, dark, and frigid Antarctic winter nights intimately and knows about the power of books to help pass tedious time more pleasantly.

Chances are that, no matter where you live, you have come across a Little Free Library in or near your home town. Since the very first was created in 2009 to honor a beloved family member, the idea of providing a free book exchange has taken the world by storm and today, there are at least 125,000 such libraries in no fewer than 100 countries. In the U.S., they are represented in all 50 states.

To enlarge a photo, click on it.

The idea of putting free books across the globe and into a variety of neighborhoods was born out of the realization that not everyone knows how to read or write, or can afford to buy books for themselves or their children. “Little Free Library” was created as a nonprofit organization in Hudson, Wisconsin, with the mission to “be a catalyst for building community, inspiring readers, and expanding book access for all through a global network of volunteer-led Little Free Libraries.” Anyone can build a box, put it in their front yard, fill it with printed matter, and encourage those who pass to “take one or leave one.” But to become part of the official network, the project needs to be registered at a cost (according to the official website, the price for a generic charter is $39.95). Or it’s possible to order prefabricated boxes of various sizes, shapes, and colors, each of which will come with its charter already included.

Surveys have proven the positive impact of these community libraries for readers both small and tall. For someone fortunate enough to never have wanted for books, the thought that there are kids (and adults) who don’t own any is depressing. Maybe some of you have registered your own Free Little Library and become stewards. Hats off to you. But even if we haven’t (yet), we can lighten our groaning, overflowing book shelves and help spread and share some of the tomes we thin out.

While I have only seen Antarctica’s first Free Little Library in photos, I have enjoyed stumbling across several local examples in Colorado Springs by sheer happenstance. Some do their work quietly and unassumingly while others clamor for attention, thanks to special pains taken by the libraries’ stewards to ensure that passersby and potential readers take notice. But whatever the outward appearance, each little library holds treasures hidden in plain sight, alongside the promise of miragical discoveries in the pages of its volumes.

PS: I would love to know from my fellow bloggers if you have a favorite Little Free Library near you.

83 thoughts on “Little Free Libraries

  1. The closest one I know is two houses up the street from us, and I’ve passed several others in our neighborhood. All are simple in construction.

    One of the main things my wife Eve sends to her home country, the Philippines, is books, especially children’s books.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A friend of mine maintains one in our town. And we have an informal swap shop at our transfer station, that also offers gently used toys and puzzles. I love that useful things are kept in circulation and out of landfills.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. We have two “little libraries” in my part of town, and it’s really nice to see them springing up everywhere as I drive the local towns. I think it is one of the positive things that has taken off during these covid times. In a related way, I’m glad to see “little pantries” around the my area, as well, where people share food. Everyone benefits! Your pics of the libraries are super–those are some eye-catching designs!
    Julie

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for sharing your experience, Julie, and for mentioning your “little pantries.” I just saw my first little pantry last week as I was preparing this post, hadn’t been aware of them. Nobody should go hungry for want of either food or books!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hallo Tanja,
    diese Free libraries sind wirklich eine tolle Idee! Leider muss ich gestehen, dass ich gar nicht weiss, wo in Langenberg eine ist. Ich bin mir aber ziemlich sicher, dass wir hier eine haben. Denn Langenberg ist eine Bücherstadt. Das ist eine andere weltweite Bewegung, die sich aber noch nicht so zahlreich durchgesetzt hat, wie die Free libraries. Weltweit gibt es über 50 Bücherstädte und die Erste wurde 1961 von einem Waliser gegründet. In Langenberg gibt es zahlreiche Antiquitätenläden, die gebrauchte Bücher anbieten. Und es gibt die „Bücherquelle“, den Buchladen des Bücherstadt-Vereins. Dort kann man gebrauchte Bücher für wenig Geld kaufen. Es sind auch gar keine Preise angeschlagen, man sucht sich einfach Bücher aus und bekommt dann einen Preis genannt. Zweimal im Jahr ist dann ein großer Büchermarkt, der nächste ist am 15. Mai. Aber ich werde mal die Augen offenhalten, wo die Free library ist.
    Liebe Grüße,
    Michael

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Thanks for this post. When we moved to Ohio in 2020, I noticed one in a park about a block from our house, and we have seen them on our wanderings on back roads in the U. S. – most recently in Manistique, MI. But I had no idea there was a group encouraging them or that it was so recent [2009].
    I love the photo of the reader with a scarf around her neck in the snow.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for sharing some of your encounters with these libraries. It was only when I looked at them a little more closely and kept seeing the Little Free Library signs that I found out about the organization.
      I also appreciate your comment about the last photo. I was so taken with the girl reading on the bench next to the book box that I returned in winter, only to find that someone had lovingly wrapped a scarf around her neck. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Liebe Tanja,
    es ist schön, daß Bücherschränke inzwischen ein weltweites Phänomen sind und daß sie sich offensichtlich weiterhin vermehren.
    Hier in Solingen-Gräfrath kümmere ich mich seit zwei Jahren ehrenamtlich um den Öffentlichen Bücherschrank, den der Geschäftsführer meiner Genossenschaftssiedlung initiert hat. Genauer gesagt, war meine Bereitschaft den Bücherschrank ehrenamtlich zu pflegen die Voraussetzung, daß dieser Bücherschrank neben einer nahegelegenenen Bushaltestelle aufgebaut wurde. Zwei bis dreimal wöchentlich räume ich dort die Bücher auf, sortiere sie ein ungefähr nach Genre (die Kinderbücher gehören ins untere Regal, damit auch kleine Kinder gut heranreichen können) und entferne und entsorge allzu schmuddelige Bücher, damit der Bücherschrank einladend ausschaut.
    Der Bücherschrank wird sehr gut angenommen und lebhaft genutzt, es ist ein reges Geben und Nehmen, und gerade bei meinem heutigen Aufräumen kam eine Nachbarin und schenkte mir eine kleine Schachtel Pralinen zum Dank für meinen Bücherdienst.
    Öffentliche Bücherschränke sind ein erfreuliches Beispiel für einfaches, unkompliziertes Teilen und eine schöne Gelegenheit, ganz unerwartete Lektürefunde zu machen.
    Bibliophile Grüße von mir zu Dir 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Liebe Ulrike,
      dankeschön für Deinen Kommentar und Deinen Einsatz. Wie nett, daß sich jemand mit Pralinen bei Dir bedankt hat. Manchmal tut es einfach gut, wenn unser Schaffen anerkannt wird.
      Ich kann mir vorstellen, daß nicht jede Bücherkiste so viel Zuwendung erfährt wie die in Solingen-Gräfrath, aber wenn ich irgendwann mal in der Gegend sein sollte, werde ich ganz bestimmt danach Ausschau halten. 😊
      Ich hoffe Du liest gerade wieder ein packendes Buch.
      Herzlichst,
      Tanja

      Liked by 1 person

      • Liebe Tanja,
        ich lese in der Tat zur Zeit ein SEHR spannendes und dickes Buch von Alain Damasio “Die Flüchtigen”. Es ist ein Roman, der mehrere Genres verknüpft – eine Kombination aus Science- und Social-Fiction, Philosophie, Kapitalismuskritik und die anschaulich-detaillierte Darstellung einer sehr naheliegenden, umfassend digital-sensorisch gesteuerten Gesellschaftsordnung und ihrer Kontrollmechanismen.
        Die Flüchtigen sind in diesem Roman eine metamorphische Spezies, die sich dank ihrer exremen Schnelligkeit, Tarnfähigkeit und Verwandlungskraft dieser Kontrolle entzieht und daduch das System herausfordert.
        Herzlich grüßt Ulrike ❤

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Ein paar davon habe ich hier in Kanada auch schon gesehen! Meine “1. Sichtung” war in Prince Rupert, British Colombia vor 5 Jahren. Bis dahin kannte ich dieses Konzept nicht. Bei uns im Ort gibt es leider keine davon, allerdings “Up North”, im Hinterland sozusagen, habe ich eine gesehen!
    Die von dir gezeigten laden alle zu einem Besuch ein!
    VG
    Christa

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Living in a college town it isn’t surprising that we have quite a number of these little libraries in our neighborhood and all over town. They started showing up about ten years ago and seem to be very popular. People can’t be encouraged to read too much and many are aimed at children which is great.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Lovely post, Tanja. I love libraries!
    It happens that I pass a ‘mini free library’ on my walks.
    I remember a carefully built open board hut with many shelves and ditto books. It was even possible, for a modest amount, to buy jars of honey.
    The open board hut lay on the outskirts of a very small town strategically located at a bus stop.
    There were nice instructions for polite self-service 🤗
    I didn’t need more weight on my walk, but the event made me happy.
    All worlds are open with a free and broadly embracing literature ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your version of the free library sounds lovely and well thought-out, Hanna–right next to a bus stop. And to be able to buy local honey would be a bonus. 🐝
      It makes me happy to learn of so many different ways to make sure people have access to books.
      Happy reading. 📚

      Like

  10. A lot of imagination and care has gone into creating the ‘libraries’ to house the books. I’ve never seen one over here but you do occasionally see a shelf or bookcase, usually in a cafe, with books for people to take. (Or leave. 🙂 )

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Did I ever mention how much I love your header image? It reminds me so much of my years spent in Utah. Sadly, I haven’t come across a little free library in my current location (perhaps we ought to do something about that?), but there was one in the previous town I lived in, not far from the town’s library. I know I’ve encountered them during other travels, but can’t remember the exact locations. They always make me smile! 💞 It’s such a wonderful idea!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Gunta. That header image was one of my first when I started this blog in 2016. It will soon make room for a more spring-like view (I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for spring). 🌷
      Seeing one of these free libraries also makes me happy, and I hope readers will continue to care for and make use of them. I’m sure your community would be grateful if you decided to start one. 🙂

      Like

  12. The only one of these Little Libraries I’ve come across is at the visitors’ center in the Big Thicket. As you might imagine, that one was filled with field guides, books about nature, and so on. The idea is a wonderful incarnation of an old idea. When I began cruising, book exchanges based in marinas, popular anchorages, and even bars were quite popular. No one can keep a whole library on a boat, so it was the custom to leave already-read books somewhere, and pick up a few more for the next leg of the journey.

    One result was a remarkably eclectic selection, especially since sailors from all parts of the world would leave books written in languages other than English. Sometimes, even the alphabets weren’t recognizable! It always was great fun to see what the newest ‘pile’ contained.

    I grew up with a different sort of little library: the bookmobile. It showed up twice a week during the summer. We could check out up to ten books, and then exchange them the next time the bookmobile showed up. The best ‘bookmobile’ photo I’ve ever seen is of some Louisiana ladies in a pirogue showing up at the edge of the swamp to collect their books for the week.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for sharing your experiences of different “free library” versions, Linda. It’s easy to imagine that the twice weekly arrival of the bookmobile would have been the highlight in the life of a reading child; and the eclectic collection of global literature left at or near marinas titillating to sailors. So many books, but not enough time to read them all!

      Like

  13. As someone who spent his whole working in – and then managing – public library services I find myself intrigued by Little Free Libraries. On the one hand they aren’t really libraries in the sense that I use the word. On the other hand, however, reading is massively important and needs all the encouragement it can get these digital days. In this context LFLs can complement the public libraries network (which is still quite good here, though not what it once was!) in supporting the reading habit.

    I’ve never seen a Little Free Library in the UK, but I know there are some. The examples you feature look attractive, and are plainly well looked after. I am intrigued to know if they are ever subject to mindless vandalism…one would hope not, but sadly (in parts of the UK, anyway) they would make obvious targets for those sad souls who gain pleasure from gratuitously wrecking things that other people value.

    On a related topic, have you encountered Book Crossing, “the practice of leaving a book in a public place to be picked up and read by others, who then do likewise”? Book Crossing is an interesting, albeit haphazard, way of getting book out into the community. Another way is charity shops. We donate books that we’ve finished with to one of several charities, who then sell them cheaply in their retail outlets. Everyone’s a winner when we give books to charity shops: the charities raise much needed money to support their projects, the books find a new audience who get access to a variety of titles at a fraction of the normal retail price, and we make space in our house to store more books! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Mr. P. I came across an online article that examined the relationship between traditional libraries and free “libraries,” which come in many different guises, and the conclusion was that they complement one another very well.

      A fellow blogger (also from G.B.) mentioned that he leaves books in trains, which makes me think he practices Book Crossing. That sounds lovely. I’m not a aware of a similar “movement” in the US, but I think some people leave books in various locations as surprises. And the US definitely also has charities happy to take donated books and sell them at a low price.

      I think there is room for a wide range of ways to make books available to potential readers, and I hope we will continue to invent new ones. 📚

      Liked by 1 person

      • We’ve all left books in trains, and in buses and in planes and in restaurants too, only not deliberately! 🙂🙂🙂

        Last year we visited a local nature reserve and came across several very attractive children’s picture books as we walked around it, each protected from the English rain by a waterproof bag. Someone had gone to a lot of trouble and some expense, to stage this particular example of Book Crossing. Hopefully all those books found a new home before the day was over.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Very true–you can count me among the inadvertent, forgetful members of the Book Crossing movement. 🙂

        I admire individuals who go out of their way to do thoughtful and caring things for others. I hope with you that the recipients treasured their presents.

        Liked by 1 person

  14. I wish I wish I wish I wish! To my knowledge there’s nothing in the area, but I always admire the stories of the Little Free Libraries. Most likely the areas with more tourism have them; I’ll have to do some queries and see if there’s one in this Province.

    Not long ago in the lobby of a small hotel there were three worn paperbacks – all in English. Though none of them were appealing, they were ‘new to me,’ and I considered asking if they could be bought. Then I thought of the future visitors that might welcome having anything in English available, so dismissed the urge… I was wanting the books because they were in my native language, and I would read them in a bit of a manic way – just because it was something new…. oh, to hold the written word in hand – trumps (for me) any kind of electronic version.

    Maybe with the museum, we can conspire to do this. Thanks for the nudge!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You showed admirable self-control when you decided not to take those books, Lisa. 😊 Let’s hope someone else enjoyed them in your stead.

      I’m on the same page when it comes to electronic books. I have never read an electronic book for fun (I have read parts of online books for research), and have no intention of doing so. The ritual associated with reading a real book is far too powerful to leave behind.

      If it’s meant to be, I hope you will find a way to offer books at the museum.

      Happy reading,
      Tanja 📚

      Like

  15. Oh, wie schön! Bei uns gibt es auch mehrere dieser öffentlichen “Bücherschränke” oder “Bücherzellen”, die in der Regel auch ganz wunderbar künstlerisch gestaltet sind. Für die “Zellen” wurden z.B. alte Telefonzellen zweckentfremdet, als bunter Blickfang hergerichtet und mit Regalen versehen. Ich finde diese Idee richtig toll, denn das Buch, welches für den Einen uninteressant scheint, kann dann vielleicht zum neuen Lieblingsbuch eines Anderen werden.
    Liebe Tanja, vielen Dank für den schönen Artikel und sonnige Frühlingsgrüße aus dem Bergischen Land! 🥰 🌸🌸
    Rosie

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ich danke Dir für den netten Kommentar, liebe Rosie. Die Idee mit den alten Telefonzellen finde ich toll, aber die sieht man hier nicht, denn solche Zellen kamen hier nie in Mode, was ich schade finde. An die gelben Telefonhäuschen erinnere ich mich noch sehr gut.
      Alles Gute,
      Tanja

      Liked by 1 person

      • Mir gefällt, dass dabei die ausrangierten Telefonzellen nicht im Schrott landen, sondern sinnvoll weiter verwendet werden. Außerdem mag ich die Idee, sie kreativ zu gestalten. Zum Beispiel wurde ein Häuschen von außen komplett mit Bücherrücken bemalt, so dass man schon von weitem sieht, worum es sich hier handelt. Finde ich super!

        Liked by 1 person

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