Little Free Libraries

Today’s post comes to us from Cate Carlyle, our Ambassador to Canada: 

Cate's Little Free Library

Cate’s Little Free Library

I am a librarian. I spend my days organizing, purchasing, cataloguing, labeling, circulating, assessing, reviewing, suggesting, shipping and repairing books. I cannot go to sleep without a book and cannot remember a day that did not involve reading or creative writing. So it only seemed natural that while looking for a new hobby a few years ago I settled on creating a Little Free Library.

Little Free Libraries are the brainchild of Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin and they are taking North America by storm, popping up in city centers and remote library-less villages. As a tribute to his mother, a school teacher, in 2009 Todd mounted a box on a stick in his yard and filled it with books and a “free” sign. Todd also gave some units away to friends and the concept of “take a book, leave a book” little libraries quickly took off. The creator of the Simpsons, Matt Groening has designed a library and there are festivals, group builds, literacy initiatives, articles and a book about the phenomenon. Now an official non-profit corporation, Little Free Libraries number 40 000 in North America as of June 2016.

Some libraries are quite elaborate, many feature a definite theme, and some are simple and utilitarian. Libraries can be purchased pre-built from the LFL organization or you can build your own and register it. Those libraries registered with the corporation, as mine is, receive a charter number and sign and are pinpointed on the official website map. Each library has a card explaining the borrowing options: take a book, take a book and leave one behind, or donate a book. Some owners choose to include guest books, request lists, borrowing slips and other more involved options.

My little library is quite simple. Carefully crafted by my talented father, Fred Warriner, the unit is rain and snow proof and designed to be easily removed in case of a hurricane. It sits on a post at the end of my driveway where passersby, local hikers and dog walkers can have easy access. I live on the ocean in Prospect, Nova Scotia, Canada and locals and visitors regularly walk down our street to access the water. While I had the best intentions of tracking materials, seeking requests and compiling statistics on usage and preferences (all very librarian-like), I have found that the library runs itself and I rarely have to check on it. Some borrow and return as they would in a regular library, some take a book never to be seen again, and some use the library to repurpose their own reading material. On the very rare occasions when the library has been running low I have added some of my own used books and also purchased a few from a local charity store when I had none to share. I have been pleasantly surprised to find that people respect the library; it isn’t used as a garbage bin, hasn’t been vandalized and the feedback from neighbours and friendly waves from the end of the driveway as groups chat around the library has been very rewarding. Next on my to-do list is a shorter “childrens library”. Taking my work home with me has been a very good thing.


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  1. Hi Cate,

    Awesome idea! inspires me to setup in my front yard to promote the joy of reading. As with technology everyone is hooked up in mobile devices.

    From down under
    Kindest Regards

  2. There is one of these in central Melbourne which I use every time I am in town – saves carrying enough books to read while I’m away or buying books once I get there that I then have to either dispose of or carry home – so they are certainly useful for a variety of reasons. I think calling them a library is an error though: libraries are collections of books (or other items), deliberately created and dependent on all the activities that Cate lists at the beginning of her post, which librarians or library technicians are trained to do. Little Free Libraries are free book exchanges. As such, they are very useful but they aren’t libraries. A library is the product of thought, training, decisions and management. Mistaking one for the other is just that – a mistake – and undermines ‘real’ libraries and the work of librarians and library technicians.

  3. Pingback: Sustainability and libraries: little free libraries | International Librarians Network

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