Take a Book, Leave a Book: The Little Free Library Movement

I remember the first time I saw a Little Free Library in my town. I thought to myself, “Well, that’s an odd-looking and elaborate mailbox”, until I realized it was full of books. A small wooden sign hung from the latch that simply said: “Take a Book, Leave a Book”.

What a beautiful idea.

At the time, I thought this was just one neighbor with a big heart, a sweet idea, and tons of extra books on his hands. Little did I know that tiny libraries like these have been popping up all over the world for some time now.

In the Beginning

Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin is credited as the spark for this movement. In 2009, he built a model of an old little red schoolhouse as a tribute to his late mother who was a teacher with a strong passion for reading. Friends and neighbors loved the idea; Bol built and gave away several more models before the movement took on of a life of its own.

Bol partnered with Rick Brooks, a youth and community development educator, to expand this opportunity. They were inspired by many ideas including “Take a Book, Leave a Book” displays in coffee shops and Miss Lutie Stearns who created “traveling little libraries” all throughout Wisconsin between 1895 and 1914.

Our Mission: To promote literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide and to build a sense of community as we share skills, creativity and wisdom across generations.

Ramping Up

Just two years after Bol’s first little library, the movement caught the national media’s eye in 2011 and by the end of the year, nearly 400 Little Free Libraries existed across the United States.

In May 2012, Little Free Library was established as a Wisconsin nonprofit corporation and was given 501(c)(3) status by the IRS in September of that same year.

By the last count from June 2016, there are now over 40,000 Little Free Libraries all over the world.

Let There Be Books!

If you’ve ever seen these around your community or while traveling, I’m sure you’ve noticed the uniqueness of each one. They range from a milk crate with an umbrella attached to a refurbished newspaper dispenser to incredibly elaborate sci-fi-inspired structures. Each is a reflection of the community in which it stands, and of the person who brought it to life.


Source: Democratic Underground

Books have the interminable ability to bring people together. These Little Libraries have brought communities together, encouraged the exchange of ideas, and promoted literacy. According to a 76-year-old resident of Sherman Oaks, California, his Little Library “turned strangers into friends and a sometimes-impersonal neighborhood into a community…I met more neighbors in the first three weeks than in the previous 30 years.” (Source: The Atlantic)

How could there possibly be a downside?

Love Thy Neighbor…Or Not

Apparently not everyone is thrilled about these little structures–or they love them too much and steal for themselves. There have been reports of Libraries being stolen, vandalized, and destroyed.

Rude messages scrawled over the wood, broken bits of glass sprinkled on the books–why would anyone vandalize a library? Sheer boredom or intoxication are the only “reasons” I can think of. Especially after reading this disheartening story of a vandal setting this Denver Little Library on fire. Some people even steal the books inside in hopes of reselling them for pocket change at used book stores. How disappointing.


Source: The LA Times

Additionally, several cities have issued cease and desist orders to owners of the Little Libraries for violation of city codes following neighbor complaints; citing “problems” such as obstruction as an “illegal detached structure” or breaching zoning laws without a permit. In at least one case, a couple was told they could file an appeal to have their library remain where it was– for a mere $500 fee (Source: The Los Angeles Times).

Silver Lining

Despite a few bellyachers, the movement shows no signs of losing it’s momentum. Book lovers shall triumph! Keep an eye out for these community treasures and keep it going. Want to find a Little Free Library near you? Click Here. It’s like Geocaching for books!

What do you think of the Little Free Library movement? Share your opinions and experiences in the comments below!

YouTube Channel: Gwen Briesemeister


Featured image via MyModernMet

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