Few skills have the facility to impact our lives more than the ability to read. Reading provides us with the opportunity to have fun, to learn and to communicate and it is these three values that are perhaps at the core of the Little Free Library project that it steadily increasing in presence around the globe. With a Little Free Library present in places as far reaching as places from Colombia to South Korea, Uganda to the United Arab Emirates; the organisation has clearly found a way to connect with communities in a way that surpasses any cultural differences. So where did life begin for this, initially, very local idea?
What became the first Little Free Library as we know now them was a small, wooden structure modelled after a school house that sat in Wisconsin, U.S.A. It had been lovingly handcrafted by Todd Bol as a loving tribute to his mother, a teacher who was herself known for a love of books. It was filled with books curated through Todd’s mother’s personal collection for those nearby to browse and borrow and soon people throughout the community joined in with the idea and began adding much-loved books of their own.
Realising the potential that a friendly, Little Free Library could have, even with just a mini collection of books, Todd Bol teamed up with Rick Brooks, who had previously organised library projects in other countries, and together the two pioneered a way for others to join in with the idea and to share it across communities. The aim of the Little Free Library project is simple: to encourage a love of reading and highlight this shared passion with others, and this modest philosophy meant that Todd and Rick were soon asked to help others create a Little Free Library of their own. It’s thanks to those that were eager to participate in the early days of the community driven scheme that the idea quickly grew across counties, states and countries into the organisation we know today.
Little Free Library structures can now be bought through the website (with an official charter of membership) or can be built by hand. Little Free Libraries of all shapes and sizes exist, from smaller collections in brightly painted wooden houses, to a library based on Dr Who’s own TARDIS. This potential for expression encourages those that participate to let their creativity shine and create a Little Free Library as unique as the collection inside. But one of the best aspects of the organisation is that support is often available to help build a Little Free Library for those that do not have the material or funds to start their own, as the organisation promotes and positively encourages everyone to get involved. This support may come from local governmental authorities or companies wishing to demonstrate their interest in the social welfare of the society they’re situated in. This has allowed for a love of reading to grow within communities that otherwise might not have had the opportunity to become a part of the organisation and has enabled the Little Free Library project to flourish.
The individual Little Free Library that you might find outside homes, in parks and other easily accessible locations within a community are cared for and supervised by those that initially contact the organisation and set up a library in the area, but the whole point of the movement is that anybody can approach it and share in the collection of books. Although the steward may initially curate the collection for the public, the real depth to the collections comes from the local friends of the library. The Little Free Library project relies on an ethos of mutual sharing within the community and the idea that if someone has borrowed a book they will then donate a book that they feel will enhance the time of somebody else in order to preserve the library and keep it full of changing titles. This means that the collections within the Little Free Library are truly the product of the community: its knowledge, its interests and its passions.
Currently, there are more than 15,000 Little Free Libraries worldwide, with that number constantly increasing. There is no limit to how many libraries can be in one area and those working at the organisation want the love of reading to reach as many people as possible. Though the majority of these Little Free Libraries are found within the United States, the benefits of having these libraries in the United Kingdom are many. Smaller villages and communities may benefit from a spot for social gathering, whilst a Little Free Library in larger cities would facilitate the chance for people to meet other like-minded individuals. The varied literary content of the library collections is also a valuable educational tool that could support students alongside their studies. Acting as a steward and getting involved in the Little Free Library project is a valuable way for people to volunteer in the community and an excellent use of any spare time. Furthermore, a Little Free Library is a quaint and interesting focal point which may be of interest to visitors to the area.
The Little Free Libraries project has gone from strength to strength since its conception in 2009, so don’t be surprised if you, too, soon see one pop up in your local neighbourhood and with it, an enriching space to share a collective love of reading.