Little Free Library | The American Word

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Little Free Library

Katarzyna Strycharz | 1/16/15 3:52pm
| Updated 1/16/15 4:38pm

Katarzyna Strycharz /

Walking through District of Columbia, one might come across one of these unique boxes posted in someone’s front yard, office or apartment complex. Ranging in size, material and decoration, they often contain personal touches that their to stand out from the already eccentric and vibrant D.C. communities they’re in! If you have ever wondered where they have come from, or how you can get started with sponsoring or hosting one in your space, then you are in luck!

The mantra of the non-profit behind the Little Free Library is “Take a Book, Return a Book,” and could not be more appropriate for what the organization aims to achieve. Even though the LFL has grown tremendously from its conception, its humble and familial beginnings are deeply rooted into the core of what the institution stands for. The first ever (unofficial) library has a story behind it that will warm the coldest of hearts in these coming winter months.

In 2009, Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin built a model of a one room schoolhouse as a tribute to his mother, a former schoolteacher who placed a large emphasis on reading. Todd filled the replica with books and put it on a post in front of his house. His family, friends, and neighbors loved the idea! Encouraged by such positive feedback, Todd built more models and gave them away, attaching a FREE BOOKS sign to each one. The rest is (quite literally) history.

Once his one little model had blossomed into an idea of a community book exchange program, Todd needed to turn it into a social enterprise. which he did with the aid of friend Rick Brooks, a community development educator with expertise in social marketing. Together, the dynamic duo wanted to achieve the mission of “promoting literacy and the love for reading by building free book exchanges worldwide, as well as building a sense of community by sharing skills, creativity, and wisdom across generations.”

In a time when illiteracy rates are extremely high, the Little Free Library system gets people talking about books. It helps address the central question of “How do we get books front and center in the minds of kids?’ that is so important to Todd.

However, literacy is not the only thing that LFLs help address. As Todd stated, “When you learn to crawl, the next step is to walk. For people to go forward in their life, they need to learn how to read.” Reading helps combat the elevated levels of drug & substance abuse, imprisonment, and unemployment that illiterate youths often face later in life.

Inspired by “Take a book, leave a book” collections in coffee shops, public spaces, neighborhood kiosks, TimeBanking, community-gift sharing networks, and grassroots empowerment movements in countries such as Sri Lanka, Todd and Rick wanted the organization to be more than just providing free books on a shelf. However, even though he had big ideas, Todd never imagined the organization would grow the way it has. When prompted, he commented that “It’s like a first kiss. You know it’s going to be magical and delightful but you don’t know where it’s going.”

Although the organization had such modest beginnings that its goal of building 2,510 Little Free Libraries seemed far-fetched, that original number was reached in August of 2012, a year and a half before the target date! By January of 2014, the total number of registered Little Free Libraries has been conservatively estimated to be 15,000 worldwide, with thousands more being in the building process. The next goal? “To beat McDonalds, the great American icon,” says Todd Bol. “More books than burgers!”

The Little Free Libraries are unique not only due to each one being different in appearance and pattern, but because real people are sharing their favorite books with their community. It is unlike a second-hand book shop because not only are the books in the libraries free, but each library contains a carefully curated collection chosen carefully initially by the owner and then each individual that places a book inside it as the library grows.

Every single person that takes a book out or places one within the library lends a hand to altering the piece of neighborhood art in an implicit manner. Divergent from other forms of art that can be held and changes can be easily seen, Little Free Libraries are social artworks whose workings have profound positive effects on the communities in which they are placed. It turns observers of neighborhoods into active participants.

A student walking home from school, not having anyone to drive him or her to a local library, may have the perfect opportunity to pick up some new reading material from a LFL. An unpublished author may have a place to drop his or her new manuscript so that someone out there may get to read the words he so long labored to put on paper. A teacher may be able to drop off those spare books that have been gathering dust in his or her basement. A mom may be provided the place to drop off those books that her toddler has already outgrown. The possibilities that Free Little Libraries may open up to the community are quite precisely endless!

At a time when libraries may be going out of fashion due to the invention, proliferation, and popularization of e-books and e-readers, the Little Free Library system is a great way to keep the printed word alive. In a few simple steps, anyone that wants to get involved may put up their own LFL for others to enjoy.

5 easy steps stand between you and your very own LFL.

  • First, a location and steward needs to be identified. Where are you going to put the library and who will care for it?
  • Fifth and lastly, celebrate the installment of your Little Free Library with a Grand Opening!
  • Fourth, begin building support for your library! Get your community involved by spreading the word about your involvement in the organization.
  • Third, kick back and relax if you have decided to go down the purchase route. If you have chosen to make your own, this is the time to get creative.
  • Second, you must build, order, or sponsor. You can either make your own library, order one from the catalog, or sponsor one for a community in need.

It’s that easy.

Todd Bol closed off his interview with stating, “Everyone knows raising a child takes a village. But the question one has to ask is, how am I part of the village?” Will you be joining the worldwide village that Mr. Bol has so finely crafted?

If you or anyone you know would like to get involved by putting up your own library or helping care for one, or sponsoring their building, please visit their website at

Let’s help to get the number to grow even more!