Your local library may be much closer than you think — as close as your next-door neighbor’s house. But it could be mistaken for a bird feeder or even an old newspaper vending box. It’s not in the tradition of the public library that you are accustomed to, with wall-to-wall books and where the librarian may remind you to be quiet at the slight raise of your voice. Instead, these are “Little Free Libraries.”
Little Free Libraries are based around a “take-one, leave-one” philosophy: Users take a book from the box and drop off another for others to read. There are neither overdue notices nor fines issued if the book is late or not returned.
These miniature lending houses are meant to encourage literacy for all and, most importantly, foster community spirit.
There are currently 23 known Little Free Libraries in the Seattle area.
Little Free Libraries are only found on private properties — whether it’s a residence or community-owned land. It is, as nonprofit Little Free Library co-founder Rick Brooks describes it, “neighbor-to-neighbor.”
The libraries were originally conceived to improve the quality of and to bring community together. Brooks, who co-founded the nonprofit Little Free Library along with Todd Bol, said it all started with a conversation back in 2008 over ways they could improve the quality of life in communities.
During the conversation, Bol remembered ideas he had read about in Portland, Ore., and his international work, and Brooks recalled ideas from his travels and workshops. It turns out that Bol had built a small model of a one-room schoolhouse, filled it with books and placed in the front yard of his Hudson, Wisc., home, as a memorial for his late mother who loved reading. His friends and neighbors later asked if he would make one for them.
“We began realizing that the idea of a box of free books could be a lot more than that. It could be a neighborhood book exchange, a way to bring people together and share something they valued to others,” Brooks said.
They also saw an opportunity to encourage more adults and children to read. Soon enough, word spread, and they were getting media coverage in outlets including the USA Today, the Los Angeles Times and locally in The Seattle Times, from which the response was “tremendous,” he said.
Ravenna resident Bill Sherman opened his little library outside of his home last summer after reading an article in The Seattle Times last summer.
With some leftover scrap lumber in their garage and the help of his family, they built it in a couple days and placed it in the front of their home for passersby to take and, if they decide, to give a book.
According to Sherman, it has sparked conversations and has shown the different interests that his neighbors have, which is one of the things that founders Brooks and Bol intended.
“I’m always surprised to see what books people take and what they leave. Somebody left a 100-year-old book about wooden shipbuilding; other people leave best sellers or mystery novels,” Sherman said. “It’s interesting to see what shows up in there.”
Josh Larios, who lives in North Seattle, read about Little Free Libraries in March on a community website. A few months later, he took an old Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper-vendor box that he bought in 2009 and opened up his library on his front lawn.
Since then, he has met neighbors whom he hadn’t met until then. However, he said, “I don't know that I’m making a difference in terms of literacy or love of books or anything like that. My guess is that if you’re not already a reader, having a free library in your neighborhood isn’t going to do much to change that. But I think it might make a small difference in how connected people in the neighborhood feel [toward] each other.”
Does the Little Free Public Library
. LIBRARIES, Page 20