Perhaps you’ve been walking around your neighborhood and noticed a dollhouse-like structure filled with books in someone’s front yard. These Little Free Libraries are part of an international movement that began in 2009 in Hudson, Wisconsin with a man named Todd Bol. The concept is simple: take a book, return a book. You don’t have to return the same book to the same place. You can keep it if you like and perhaps donate one or two of your own.
As a tribute to his mother, a schoolteacher who loved reading, Todd Bol designed a small doll-sized schoolhouse and put it in his front yard with a sign reading FREE BOOKS. So many people approached him about how much they loved the little library that he realized he had met more neighbors in those first thirty days than in the first thirty years had lived there. Combining efforts with Rick Brooks, a professor at the University of Wisconsin with experience in community development and social marketing, the movement took off.
Their mission is “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.” The goal was to build over 2,510 free libraries, surpassing the number built by the great Andrew Carnegie. This goal was reached in 2012 and today there are over 20,000 registered Little Free Libraries in over seventy countries worldwide.
Unfortunately, this simple act of community has faced resistance in some areas. In Shreveport, Louisiana, these small structures were classified as commercial enterprises that may not operate in residential zones. The Edgerton family was told by the city that they needed to cease operation of their library or file an appeal for $500. However, many citizens have shown solidarity with the Edgertons by placing stacks of books outside their houses with signs offering them for free to passers by.
Los Angeles certainly should have bigger issues to deal with, but homeowners Peter Cook and Lili Flanders have also received a similar order from an L.A. city investigator. In Leawood, Kansas, a nine year-old’s Little Free Library was taken down until the town council stepped up with an emergency moratorium permitting him to put it back up. Little Free Libraries are allowed in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, but only in backyards, where this restriction denies the true essence of the open, community nature of the movement.
Of course, in Seattle, Washington, where creativity and literacy are highly valued, library shutdowns likely won’t be an issue. According to Forbes, in 2014 the Emerald City was listed as one of the country’s most educated, most creative, and best cities for young professionals. In fact, last year a group called Architects Without Boarders actually hosted a competition in Seattle called Libraries on the Loose. Teams competed to design the best Little Free Library based off aesthetics, function, and use of salvageable materials.
No doubt there are at least a few of these adorable structures within walking distance of where you are right now. A map of registered libraries is available on their website and you can also look up locations by city and state. If you are interested in hosting your own Little Free Library, there are instructions about that too, from zoning laws to official registration. You may build your own structure or buy one from their online catalog. Check out their website for FAQs, their blog, and a gallery of photos from around the world. If you prefer social media, you can also find them on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Pinterest, Instagram, and Google Maps.