Thursday 28 May 2015

My Little Free Library

Last summer, I constructed a wooden box which I then mounted on posts, in my front yard. This is my Little Free Library.

If you've never heard of this before, Little Free Libraries are small, neighbourhood book exchanges, curated by individuals. I first stumbled on the idea through a Facebook post, about two years ago and had wanted to build my own, ever since.

I liked that it could help bring our neighbourhood closer, that it would create opportunities for me to meet and interact with my neighbours and that it promotes reading and sharing, and that I might get to read some really great books for free. The longer I thought about it, the more enthusiastic I became, but I did think ahead about the problems I might encounter, including vandalism and theft.

Here are some things that have happened that I did not anticipate...

1) Overflow: The response to the library was immediate and enthusiastic which greatly pleased me. However, I had not anticipated receiving so many valuable contributions that I would have to find significant storage space for the overflow. Beyond this, I constantly have to check the box and make choices to provide a good selection. It's not too much work, but I didn't expect it.

2) Mold: In the summer and early fall, everything went very smoothly but we had unusually heavy rainfall in November and winds drove water under the weatherstripping and into the library, ruining about ten books, which was heartbreaking. I fixed the small gap that had allowed the leak but though I could keep out water, I could not control the moisture in the air. Weeks later, I noticed that some of the books had become moldy. Hadn't thought of that. My solution was to put the books in large ziplock bags. This worked well, but I do have to monitor closely to make sure that people return the books to the bags and seal them up, afterward.

3) Spam: The library is free to all and people are encouraged to contribute as well as take, and people who are enthusiastic about their beliefs have used the opportunity to spread the word.
     The first contributions were varied, but about a month after the library opened, I noticed a large volume of books on women's issues. This came and went without any problem and was followed by a wave of vegetarian and vegan books which also seemed to go through the natural cycle of being borrowed, returned and eventually kept by someone. The same with several Christian-based novels. The latest wave, though, has not been as well received.
     One user, who is obviously Jehovah's Witness, regularly contributes Watch Tower Magazine and other religious tracts—to my mind, no more than propaganda—in disproportionate numbers. Though I am not religious, I try not to be judgmental about what literature people want to share, and so, at first I chose not to remove these. However, I have observed that not one of these books/magazines has been borrowed and as the contributions continue, they accumulate and crowd out other books.
     So, now I find myself having to cull from the collection. What once was a natural and low-maintenance system has now become completely unnatural and highly moderated. The response to this has been an increase in the Jehovah's Witness contributions, presumably because the contributor believes someone is reading them. I left a note, including my email address, letting the contributor know that none of their material has yet been borrowed. This might alleviate the problem. We'll see.

4) Theft, vandalism and other crime: Early on, it occurred to me that in the library was an easy target for mischief. I anticipated the box being spray painted, damaged, books being tossed, torn or stolen. I also thought someone might shove garbage into it. I am happy to report that very little of that has happened. One small batch of books and their ziplock bags did go missing—leaving only the Jehovah's Witness material—but the next day, new contributions had completely rejuvenated the library.

5) Vacation: My family and I were about to leave on a month-long trip to Japan and I decided the simplest thing was to close the library for the duration. I was typing up a note to that effect and suddenly realized that publicly posting that I would not be home for an entire month was not a wise idea. So, like a pet, I had to find a free Little Free Library sitter.

So far, hosting my Little Free Library has been a very pleasant experience. Exactly as I'd hoped, it has brought a lot of neighbours together through chance encounters at the box, I've met and talked with many more people than usual, users have really embraced the concept and maintained a healthy cycle of borrowing and contributing and, I have read several books that would never have otherwise crossed my path.

I especially love seeing parents and their children checking out the selection. Because children's books tend to be either small and short, or huge and awkward, my next project will be a Little Free Reading Bench so that parents with small children can go for a nice walk, select a free book and sit in the sun and read it without having to lug it home and back for five minutes of entertainment.

What a fantastic Christmas gift for us! A neighbor gave us a card
expressing her appreciation for our library. (Dec 2015)
A much cooler Little Free Library.

A great addition to your library!
My time travel, action/adventure novel!


  1. We considered a Little Free Library (also about 2 years ago, after reading a Kickstarter promotion for one in Maine), but we live on a cul-de-sac at the top of a steep hill, so we would not be able to host it on our own property. Instead, we began driving to visit other registered LFLs in the area, and distributing our contributions to them.

  2. Pat, We Little Free Librarians really rely on contributions, not only to replenish but also to infuse variety. Lately, I've noticed that the religious zealots have dominated my selection. I do not intend to interfere but I'm am hoping that generous contributors, like yourself, will help to restore balance. Thanks for reading! (this post, as well as in the more general sense. )