Our Little Free Library Adventure

Our library: a simple little portal to endless worlds in our front lawn. / Photo: Lisa Tate

This month, my family checked off a long-time bucket list item by creating a free neighborhood library.

Our inspiration for this undertaking came from a television news feature on the non-profit organization, Little Free Library, Ltd. The organization’s mission is to “promote literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide” and to “build a sense of community.”

The non-profit organization was created in Wisconsin in 2009 by like-minded entrepreneurs Todd Bol and Rick Brooks, who share a desire to improve the “quality of community life” around the world. Soon, a staff and volunteer base consisting of builders, artists, book donors, and book lovers joined in and “little library” boxes were created and distributed around the region.

Since then, the idea has exploded worldwide; there are now free libraries on nearly every continent. More pop up every day at private residences and at schools, health clinics, parks, bus stops, coffeehouses, places of worship, and a myriad of other locations including some where promoting literacy is very important. One goal of the organization is to break Andrew Carnegie’s record of creating 2,509 free community libraries. There are also book-distributing programs supported or inspired by the organization, a film festival, and assorted promotional merchandise.

As for my family’s library, starting it was impressively simple.

We went online, made a donation to the cause, and stated our desire to be stewards of a library.  In just a day or two we received a friendly email from a Little Free Library representative welcoming us to the family and letting us know our official steward package was coming. One week after that, a small package arrived with book labels and book plates, informational pamphlets, a small paperback picture book for our library, and a sturdy wooden sign alerting our corner of the world that we were the real deal.

The sign itself was even impressive; attached to it was a message telling us this particular strip of wood was an up-cycled remnant from a 100-year-old Amish barn. What a nice touch.

As far as building the library, the site provides plans and suggestions for building the library, library kits, and even pre-built libraries. My husband and I opted to start from scratch and, using the site’s suggested Amish Shed Kit instructions, we set off to build our little wooden masterpiece. After a week of bickering, sweating, and cursing our woodworking abilities, we had the library posted in our front yard.

My original lofty plans to make a small London-style phone booth or a TARDIS were quickly abandoned, but the resulting box, adorned with some Jules Verne-era steampunk embellishments, turned out very nicely. Mission accomplished, we took a picture of ours girls in front of the location and registered the library’s number, as indicated on the sign sent to us by the organization.

Since completed, the library has virtually run itself as neighbors and passersby have done a great job of taking and returning books, even before our official signage. I’ll admit I enjoy being a bit of a voyeur from my office window when I notice people walking or driving by the library, and stopping to check it out.

I am a realist in knowing that being a steward of the library entails ongoing care, and I check the box daily for any signs of vandalism or inappropriate items. This hasn’t been a problem, as curiosity makes us want to see what others have taken or left behind. Even my daughters run to it each day as if it were Christmas morning, finding new treasures to borrow themselves.

Seeing the passion for reading this has sparked in my girls, as well as other kids, teens, and adults in the area who would normally pass by the house without looking up from their smart phones, our little library has been one of the most worthwhile projects we have done as a family…so far.

Next week: a brief look at other reading and book-sharing events and opportunities.

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Lisa Kay Tate is a veteran feature writer with 20 years experience in newspaper, magazine and freelance writing. In addition to serving as Associate Editor for her local arts and entertainment guide, El Paso Scene, she has been a regular contributor to the site ihogeek.com and maintains her own blogsite at lisathegeekmom.wordpress.com. She and her husband, writer/photographer Rick, live on the edge of "New Texico" where they keep busy raising their two geeklings and sharing space with their dog, Sirius Black, and cat, Loki.