Thursday, March 8, 2012

Little libraries, big ideas

In library science school, the really great thing you learn about the profession is that it is just chock full of really strong, smart female leaders, like Minerva (!) Sanders, Caroline Hewins, Anne Carroll Moore...  It's brimming!  You can't read about enough of them!  It's fabulous.  But of course there's that guy in the mix: Andrew Carnegie.  He played a *huge* role in creating our public library system.  And now there's a new movement going on: the Little Free Library revolution.  

It's splendidly simple: Put a Little Free Library box in your yard, community garden, neighborhood gathering spot or watering hole, and business, fill it with books, and...well, if you build it, they will come.

KRISTEN DURST, BYLINE: Give a book, return a book. That's the motto of what are known as Little Free Libraries. In the university town of Madison, Wisconsin, they're a fixture at a few coffee shops, and there's a library alongside a popular bike path. But mostly, they decorate front yards in many residential neighborhoods. Judy Clowes calls the Little Free Library on her block a gift.

JUDY CLOWES: Because my kids will run over there. I've run into friends of friends who I don't know well dropping off a book at the free library and finding, oh, this is just the right age and reading level for my daughter and taking it home. I mean, there are all of these nice, little serendipitous connections that happen with your neighbors.


DURST: Bol shared his creation with his friend, Rick Brooks of Madison, and the two hatched a plan for expansion and launched a website. Today, Brooks says there are over 200 Little Free Libraries in 34 states and 17 countries.

RICK BROOKS: They get an official number and a sign that says give a book, return a book, and then they put it on their library, and we put them on a Google Map. And it also has photographs, the story of their library, who was involved.

DURST: The libraries themselves can be simple or elaborate, purchased or homemade. There are cabins made by an Amish craftsman from Wisconsin. Many are made from recycled materials. And some are lovingly painted with Holstein cow spots, trees and scenes from books. Founders Bol and Brooks say their goal is to see over 2,500 Little Free Libraries constructed around the world. They're hoping to exceed the number of libraries built by the late philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.


So needless to say, my little librarian heart is all a-flutter.  At first I wanted to put one in my front yard because hello, why not?!  Then I thought, maybe the empty space that is our abandoned next-door neighbor's front yard, but then I thought better of it because if anyone's ever going to mow that sucker (we don't own a lawnmower since our yard is all ivy in the front and then deck/gardens in the back) we'd best not make it difficult for the city/nice other neighbor with a mower.  Then I had the idea to pitch the concept to the neighborhood community garden planning group (of which I am a part -- I'm working on our wee blog here). One way or the other though, I'm going to try to make this happen in my neighborhood.  It feels right.


  1. I for one am a giant fan of this idea. I want to make one too.

  2. I sent a pitch to the community garden coordinator...we'll see! I'll definitely update on this project one way or the other, whether it's at my house or the garden...