I was up in Seattle last week visiting family and friends, with the sad mission of helping my sister set up hospice for our mother whose already fragile health is failing and has taken a recent turn for the worse. Having good friends to touch base with during this time saved me.
After one especially hard day negotiating caretakers and my mother’s panicky confusion, I came back to my friends’ house and took a long walk around Capitol Hill in the Seattle drizzle and found another group of old friends sitting in a tiny little house. Ann Patchett’s The Patron Saint of Liars. Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. And even a board book version of Good Dog Carl! This tiny house standing at the walk end of someone’s yard with books for the taking was a little free library! I’d recently written an article on these little free libraries for BookBrowse http://www.bookbrowse.com and had been looking at pictures of them for years but it made me so happy to finally see one in person.
The Little Free Library movement started in 2009 with Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin, who built the first one in the shape of a one-room school house, filled it with books and put it in his front yard with a sign that read FREE BOOKS, in honor of his mother, who had been a school teacher and had loved reading. After building several more and giving them away, he met and partnered with Rick Brooks, a proponent of green practices and local economy. You can read more about the Little Free Libraries non-profit venture athttp://littlefreelibrary.org but to summarize, it was inspired by Andrew Carnegie’s support of 2,509 free public libraries in the late 1800’s/early 1900’s, and by Miss Lutie Sterns, a librarian whose “traveling little libraries” delivered books to 1400 locations around Wisconsin during the same period of time. For models, they also looked to neighborhood kiosks, TimeBanking (a reciprocal service exchange using units of time as currency) and community gift-sharing networks, plus other grassroots movements worldwide.
Originally called “Habitats For The Humanities’ and ‘House of Stories’ the Little Free Library initiative quickly grew into a much bigger movement with the mission to: ‘promote literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide.’ And to ‘build a sense of community as we share skills, creativity and wisdom across generations.’ Their initial goal was to build 2,510 Little Free Libraries—as many as Andrew Carnegie—and keep going for the end purpose to promote reading for children, literacy for adults and libraries around the world. Today, just five years after the first Little Free Library, there are more than 10,000 worldwide in at least 28 states and six countries including Ghana, Australia and Afghanistan!
They sit in front of homes, health centers, cafes, bus stops, store fronts, laundromats, bike paths and dog parks. Each is unique and often makes use of recycled materials like metal milk cartons, fruit crates, old barn wood, and bread boxes. In Louisiana, some little libraries have been built out of debris from Hurricane Katrina. Some look like bird houses, some like doll houses, some are built with a theme from a favorite book like Jack In The Beanstalk, while others are tiny reproductions of some local landmark.
Beyond the sharing of books and the promotion of literacy, these Little Free Libraries are also creating community. Neighbors are getting to know each other as they stop and exchange books and book talk. And I can vow for the delight and comfort of finding old friends on a rainy walk after a dreary day.
If you’re interested in making a Little Free Library of your own, visit their website for suggestions. They also sell kits starting at around $100. And if you’d like to support the movement, money donated to this non-profit helps build libraries in needy communities and developing countries. The website says, "If you need help let us know. Don't let money get in the way."
Take Good Care,