All over the world, Little Free Libraries are bringing people together. Like an extended front porch or a neighborhood water cooler, each friendly book exchange encourages interaction, conversation, and a pay-it-forward attitude between friends and strangers alike.
In other words, these Little Libraries inspire people to share more than just books.
Since the first Little Free Library was built in 2009, the charming book boxes have become a global movement. There are now 40,000 Little Free Libraries in all 50 states and 70 countries—from Los Angeles to New York, Idaho to Iowa, and Italy to Afghanistan.
Little Free Library owners, known as “stewards,” recount stories of receiving thank-you notes from kids excited to read, talking to next-door neighbors for the first time, and getting to know people from other walks of life. One steward tells of a chance meeting with a favorite grade-school teacher she hadn’t seen in decades; another tells of an elderly Chinese woman bringing homemade egg rolls to his house in appreciation for the books in his Library.
Recently, Little Free Libraries brought an impressive number of neighbors together in Minneapolis, Minnesota: On May 21, 8,000 people gathered at the first-ever Little Free Library Festival.
It was a day as eclectic as Little Free Libraries themselves (which have been built to resemble everything from miniature log cabins to 6-foot-tall robots). Attendees enjoyed a giant book swap, a literary canine parade, free haircuts for kids who read to barbers, Harry Potter trivia, music, storytelling, food, and more. In addition, they worked together to build 104 Little Free Libraries that would be donated to communities where they could make an impact on the organization’s mission points: a love of reading, community, and creativity.
Erin Brady, who has a Little Free Library in her Temecula, California, front yard, traveled nearly 2,000 miles to attend the festival. “Our Little Free Library has definitely brought our neighborhood together,” says Brady. “Both children and adults really enjoy using it, and it’s become a destination for people on their evening walks. Watching kids run up to the Library, giddy with excitement, is quite possibly the best thing about it.
“Being an LFL steward has helped me break out of my introverted shell a bit and to build friendships and make connections with people around the world,” she says. In fact, last November, Brady and her husband traveled to Taiwan to visit family and got in contact with the island nation’s first and only Little Free Library steward. “We were able to meet up and have dinner with him while we were there and continue to keep in touch.”
The festival was designed to celebrate the Little Free Library community and all of the connections it fosters, says Todd Bol, the man who built the first Little Free Library and now serves as executive director of the nonprofit, which was established in 2012.
“Little Free Libraries have been called the new mini town square. We wanted to show how they are put into action,” he notes.
Bol especially appreciates the participatory aspect of the Little Free Library movement, which encourages neighbors of all ages, genders, ethnicities, and socioeconomic backgrounds not only to take a book, but also to take part in building more unified communities where everyone contributes to the greater good.
The Little Free Library nonprofit does its part through programs that help bring LFLs to small towns with limited access to books or city centers where a sense of community is lacking. One of the organization’s initiatives, called “Kids, Community & Cops,” places Little Free Libraries in police precincts in an effort to facilitate better relationships between officers and the public they serve.
“I have a strong belief that we want to help each other and make each others’ lives better,” says Bol. “I think we’re helping improve the culture and community by giving a voice to its neighbors.”
“The question really isn’t ‘Does it take a village to raise a child?’ The question is, ‘How am I a part of the village?’” he says. “This is that village coming alive.”
Watch a video of Little Free Library Festival highlights, and learn more about the movement.
Margret Aldrich is a former editor at Utne Reader, where she first wrote about Little Free Libraries in 2011. She is the author of The Little Free Library Book, the definitive guide to the book-sharing movement, and now serves as the media relations and program manager at the Little Free Library nonprofit organization.