Stumped by what to give a loved one as a holiday gift? Give a Little Free Library (LFL) to benefit your school or neighborhood. It’s a win-win for all involved, because it will provide access to books and reading for all ages. Begun in Hudson, Wisconsin, in 2009, Little Free Libraries are now found all over the world. Best described as a “library in a little box,” their design is limited only by the creativity and construction skills of their designers, or they can be purchased from the movement’s website. Assistance of all types including plans for building and installation, libraries on a budget, tips for beginners, potential zoning problems, and promotion is available on the LFL site
In my Wisconsin rural community, the nearest public libraries are seven miles west or ten miles north. It is not always easy or convenient for busy families to fit in a trip during the libraries’ limited hours. High school English teacher Diane Vantassel had an idea. “I asked Andy Fuhs, the tech ed teacher, if he was interested in partnering with me to build some Little Free Libraries. I showed the class a video on the LFL website and asked for volunteers who were in wood shop to work on building them. With Andy’s help several boys worked on the project. We were able to get books through a book drive organized by students in my Lit. Workshop class, and we were able to get sponsorship through the LFL website so we didn’t have to pay to register the libraries. Besides the one in Readfield, we put two in New London” (Vantassel).
In October 2013 a small group of students asked the Town of Caledonia Town Board for permission to place a Little Free Library in the park near the community center. According to Diane, “Students were in charge of different aspects of the project: building, advertising, getting permission to place the libraries, getting funding and donations, etc. This gave them a rare opportunity to perform a civic duty and communicate with people outside of their usual circle of friends and acquaintances” (Vantassel). In May 2014, the students, Andy, and Diane installed the Little Free Library in the community park and participated in its dedication with town officials.
As a result of these students’ efforts, books are freely available at our community park when families came to picnic, play baseball, or just hang out. It is a win for our community and a win for the students. Diane reflected, “Students in this particular class, as well as Andy’s students, are not usually college bound, nor are they teen readers. Most seniors take Lit. Workshop because they need an English credit, not because they love to read. For many of them, it’s a last opportunity to develop a respect and love of reading before they are launched into life after high school. I think our project helped do that” (Vantassel).
Little Free Libraries often have unique shapes and designs depending on their creators. On a recent tour of the Columbus School for Girls during the 2015 AASL national conference in Columbus, Ohio, Houston independent school librarian Dorcas Hand, took photos of the school’s Little Free Library and shared them with me. The colorful LFL, with its dual “fairy” and people entrances, intrigued me. After learning about LFLs, in 2013-2014 preschool students in the Columbus Program for Young Children (PYC) were involved in designing, building, and painting their LFL with assistance from Columbus artist Walter Herrmann (Ruefle). Using a recycled kitchen cabinet, the children determined shelf heights (to allow for baby, children’s, and teenage books), decided upon the type of roof (recycled copper), planned for lots of windows for visibility of the titles, added a flag and a sign, and included a ladder for fairies to get books (Forte et Grantum). They are very proud of their LFL, and it is well used by students and neighborhood residents. Lower school librarian Annie Ruefle explained, “Kindergarten students put it best, ‘People can stop by and get a book before work in the morning… grown up books, kid’s books, and teenager books!’” (Ruefle). With a feeling of responsibility for their LFL, the current kindergarten class monitors the collection and reports to the class when more books are needed (Ruefle). The PYC students learned a lot while creating the library and now have the joy of watching their LFL provide reading resources for others.
In this season of giving, make a difference in the lives of others and give the gift of reading to your neighborhood or school. To get started, sign up online to receive the “Insider’s Guide to Starting a Little Free Library!” with its practical tips on “how to build, install, stock, and promote” based on experiences of LFL stewards (Start Your…).
If you have already created a Little Free Library at your school, post a comment with your story.
Forte et Grantum. (Columbus School of Girls alumnae magazine) Autumn 2015: 28-29. http://issuu.com/columbusschoolforgirls/docs/forte_fall_2015_no_crops/.
Little Free Library. “Start Your Own Little Free Library.” http://littlefreelibrary.org/start/.
Ruefle, Annie. Email message to author, November 17, 2015.
Vantassel, Diane. Email message to author, November 16, 2015.
Hand, Dorcas. November 2015. Columbus School of Girls Little Free Library photo used with permission.
Shaw, Katie. May 2014. Town of Caledonia Little Free Library installation photo used with permission.
Vantassel, Diane. May 2014. Cheesehead Little Free Library photo used with permission.
Author: Helen Adams
A former school librarian in Wisconsin, Helen Adams is an online senior lecturer for Antioch University-Seattle in the areas of intellectual freedom, privacy, library ethics, and copyright. A member of the AASL Knowledge Quest Advisory Board, the ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee, and a KQ blogger, she is the author of Protecting Intellectual Freedom and Privacy in Your School Library (Libraries Unlimited, 2013) and contributor to The Many Faces of School Library Leadership (2nd edition, Libraries Unlimited, 2017). Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.