Have you driven by one of these guys and wondered what they are? Can you look inside? Are you allowed to take a book? Do you have to put a book inside to take part?
Little Free Libraries have been popping up around St. Louis, the country, and the world for the past few years. Here in St. Louis, I seem to find one or more within every neighborhood!
The first Little Free Library was built in Wisconsin in 2009 by Todd H. Bol. In 2012, he and a friend created the nonprofit Little Free Library. Unfortunately, Todd has passed away since, yet his legacy and effect on the neighborhood and literacy worlds live on.
You can find out anything about Little Free Libraries on the nonprofit’s website—everything from building one, to finding one, to learning about all the good Little Libraries have done across the world. You can also donate to the nonprofit.
SO HOW DO THEY WORK?
They’re simple. See a Little Library while walking through a neighborhood? Here’s what you can do:
– Take a book
– Read a book
– Share the book with a friend (or)
– Bring it back to any Little Library
LITTLE LIBRARY OWNERS
A Little Free Library owner here in St. Louis and in New Jersey chatted with me about the story of their Little Libraries.
Starting in 2016, the Little Free Library of Oakville (49151 is the LFL’s official number; each library has one) was created by Jenny, an entrepreneur and devoted mother. Jenny and her family opened the Little Library on New Year’s Eve in 2016. Her husband built the library with wood and a reclaimed pallet-wood roof. An aluminum composite is underneath the roof for rain protection. The door is plexi and her children painted the library. As for the design concept of the library, her husband’s access to supplies dictated materials, while Jenny chose a color that wouldn’t match their house, but also wouldn’t be outrageous. “I didn’t want to anger any neighbors… I wanted it to look a little outdoorsy.”
This Little Free Library (07090) in New Jersey was started by Sara, a mother and a teacher. Just 20 minutes outside of NYC, her town has a variety of LFLs. “Ours primarily brings excitement to books for young readers and a fun alternative to the big library or bookstores for adults.” Sara’s husband built their library. She wanted it to match their home. She chose to have two shelves with adult books on top and children’s books below, plus a bonus bottom shelf for larger books.
HOW DID YOU HERE ABOUT LFLS?
“I came across Little Free Libraries on Instagram and I was OBSESSED with them,” Jenny said. None existed in her neighborhood. Sara read an article in a parenting magazine 4 years ago. “I ripped it out and put it on the fridge.” Soon enough, Sara’s LFL was up and running.
THE BUILDING PROCESS
Before fully constructing the library, Jenny checked the area’s subdivision rules, neighbors’ thoughts, and area utilities to make sure nothing underground would be affected. Nothing underground, no restrictions on the structure, and neighbors were excited! She read up on what other LFLs had done regarding any restrictions. If built in a common/community area, permission was typically needed. Since it was on her own property, on her side of the sidewalk and not the street side, she stuck with consulting the subdivision guidelines. (Side note from Locality Studio: Typically, subdivision guidelines will include any zoning or permitting information you need, or they will point you to the overarching city’s regulations if needed.)
Once registered through the Little Free Library organization, LFL owners receive a “How to be a steward” guide and charter sign, which Jenny loved. She was then able to join a private Facebook group as well. “They are fantastic and help navigate through many issues, such as ‘how can I get more traffic,’ ‘what to do when you are vandalized,’ etc.” Sara also received these after registering. She did not have any local government restrictions.
Jenny advertised her Little Free Library through social media and got lots of book donations before the library was even up and running. “We had GOBS of them. It was overwhelming and wonderful.” She had a grand opening party with a great crowd. She said, “I was humbled to see so many friend and neighbors. Yes, we offered snacks and hot cocoa, but I do think they would have come anyway. Haha.” Sara has discovered their outreach in the community through social media. “With this voice, I have been able to spread kindness, hold donation drives, and plan literary events.”
WANT TO START A LITTLE FREE LIBRARY?
I asked what advice they had for others wanting to start their own Little Free Library. “The best part about a Little Free Library is that you can run yours however you wish. We have chosen to only have one rule–enjoy reading,” Sara said. Jenny explains many people asked her about it, not wanting to “step on her toes.” She said they were ridiculous and that she’d love to have a ton of LFLs in the neighborhood. Since opening her’s, another has popped up nearby and her husband built one for their children’s elementary school (which required working with the school district and principal). Jenny encourages everyone and says to start by checking the rules and regulations of their area.
Both libraries have a Guest Book in their LFLs. I’ve never seen that before–what a great idea! “In fact, truth be told, I wasn’t much of a reader,” Jenny said. “As I saw the donations come in, I’d pull a book out here or there. The next thing you know, I’m reading like an animal!” Jenny recently had a Little Free Library Crawl among her local LFLs–so fun! Check her out on Instagram and Facebook. You can see Sara’s LFL on Instagram and Facebook too!