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6 Tips to Start a Little Free Library in Your Neighborhood

Free book exchanges bring communities together while promoting literacy

By Kari Kynard Ridge on March 16, 2015

A girl stand beside what to some might look like a large birdhouse, but actually contains books and is a little library on a post in a yard.
BookusBinder via Flicker

Little Free Libraries are “take a book, leave a book” gathering places where neighbors bond and share their favorite literature. The movement began in 2009 when Hudson, Wisc., resident, Todd Bol built a small exchange box that resembled a one-room schoolhouse, filled it with books and placed it in his front yard as a tribute to his mother, a former schoolteacher.

Today, the nonprofit Little Free Library organization has far surpassed its early goal of building as many small libraries as Andrew Carnegie constructed in the traditional style by the early 20th century – 2,509. There are now estimated to be 23,000 Little Free Libraries placed in all 50 states, in 71 other countries, and on every continent except Antarctica. Besides providing free and easy access to books, Little Libraries are hailed for promoting literacy and strengthening communities as neighbors meet around the exchange box.

Here are six tips to help you start your own Little Free Library:

1. Location, Location, Location

The first thing to do when planning your own Little Library is to decide where to place it. It’s easiest to locate your exchange box on a post on your own property. Libraries are also popping up inside apartment buildings, in coffee shops and in cities. The Little Free Library organization has many suggestions if you want to place your box on public land, such as in a park.

2. Legal Considerations

The LFL website says that, although you are not likely to have liability issues – especially with boxes placed on private land – some stewards do choose to carry liability insurance as a safeguard.

3. Build or Buy Your Box

You can build a library out of anything – the only requirement is that it holds several books! Building an exchange box is a popular pastime among community groups and neighbors – the very people who will use it. For outdoor libraries, include a sturdy roof to protect books from the elements, and make it kid-friendly with no parts that might injure children if they try to climb on it. You can also choose from many finished products on the LFL website, which range from the basic to the ornate.

4. Create Your Library

When first selecting books, think about the people who will be using the library. If you expect many children to visit, you can fill it with your favorite children’s books. If your community consists of an older generation, you can include some books in large-print. Make sure to include your favorite classics and modern novels – and see what books appear in the swaps.

5. Tell the World About Your Library

Invite your community to an open house picnic or potluck, and tell neighbors it is their library. Send announcements to town and community newsletters, and post flyers in nearby businesses. Register your exchange box on the Little Free Library website to give it the official “Little Free Library” moniker, and help others find it through GPS coordinates.

6. Keeping Up Appearances

Work together with your neighbors to keep an eye on the box and on inventory, and replace books that are damaged. Keep your Little Library clean – inside and out – and clear away snow and leaves to make it an enjoyable destination all year long.

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