PHOTO: Little Free Library photo by Kathy Jentz.
GARDENING GODDESS • BY KATHY JENTZ
You may have been walking your dog or driving down a local street and seen one of these adorable new front yard embellishments. They could house a family of squirrels or be a storage spot for garden tools, but instead these cute wooden boxes are lending libraries with no overdue fees or loan card needed.
Originally designed to look like a one-room school or a “house of books,” the libraries rapidly took on a wide variety of sizes, shapes, themes, and other attributes. Each Little Free Library (LFL) is unique in look and style, but the principle is the same – anyone is free to take a book or leave a book. There is no obligation to replace one, but it is nice to do so to keep the library (and your karma) in balance.
Little Free Library photo by Kathy Jentz.
Little Free Library is a non-profit, tax-exempt organization whose mission is to promote a sense of community, reading for children, literacy for adults, and libraries around the world. Most LFLs are placed in front yards, parks, gardens and other easily accessible locations.
People have been swapping and lending books since the printed press began, but the LFL idea of a network of unique structure with stewards, signage, and social support began in 2010. They now number more than 32,000 and are in all 50 states and over 70 countries around the world. (There are even more unregistered locations.) You can find an online map of all the registered locations. In the 20910/20912 area, I count at least 20 LFLs and have visited at least half of them in person myself.
LFLs are part of the growing Sharing Economy movement and folks are embracing them as part of a way to interact and connect with their community. Janice Browne on Islington Street in Silver Spring, MD, said, “We stumbled across our first Little Free Library when we were visiting family a couple of years ago in Madison, WI. What was that intriguing, cheerful, colorful kiosk in a neighbor’s front yard? We were fascinated and inspired by what we read on the sign. We then found them all over town, sponsored by individuals and all sorts of community organizations, drawing folks together around books. Bibliophiles ourselves, we decided instantly that we wanted to be part of this movement (which actually had begun in Wisconsin), to support it globally, and to bring it to our own little neighborhood. “
Little Free Library photo by Kathy Jentz.
The Brownes’ LFL was one of the first in our area and she reports that it is not much work to maintain, “I love managing the inventory, trying to keep the collection fresh and diverse, having a handy repository for those of our own books we’re ready to pass on, and occasionally supplementing with bargain books from the Wheaton library bookstore (especially fast-moving kids’ books). I store some overflow inside for rotating, but I also enjoy sharing with other local LFLs and meeting their sponsors. As for the initial set-up, it was great fun to design and to watch the baffled neighbors try to guess what we were building. Upkeep of the structure is a very minor deal – just re-paint or re-stain annually.”
I asked Janice to share some personal stories about books exchanging hands through her LFL and she shared these three:
“When we first opened our LFL, two days before Christmas 2013, we announced that we were including a gift-wrapped new copy of The Phantom Tollbooth, a book that had been one of our son’s favorites when he was young – and it was gone that very day! I love imagining it as a holiday gift to a budding young reader, and making that connection through the generations.
“One of the first notes we received in our comments notebook was from a professor at Montgomery College. She thanked us profusely for ‘saving the day’ when she had to take her sick daughter with her to work but had neglected to bring something from home to entertain her during class.
“Another time, a stern-looking policeman knocked at my front door, and as I answered with my heart pounding, he grinned and said he loved the library idea and just wanted to thank me on behalf of the community. “
Other LFL owners in our community have reported similar experiences and some have been inspired to make their LFLs go beyond just books. Some have used them to give away small puzzles and art supplies. A few have used their comments notebook to have ongoing conversations with neighbors they have never met before.
If you want to learn more about LFLs or perhaps add one to your own front yard landscape, visit the official LFL website.
Also, note that about a dozen Little Free Libraries in Takoma Park, MD were built and placed through the efforts of Friends of the Takoma Park Maryland Library Board member Walter Mulbry. He has also mapped the LFLs in the City. The map can be seen here.