I've seen the Little Free Library project popping up all over the place, from urban meccas like Chicago to tiny roads in Newcastle, Maine, and I am always thrilled to see one. When Todd Bol built a mailbox-sized schoolhouse in 2009 as a tribute to his mom, he had no idea that he was starting a massive movement that combines altruism with literacy and community building. The Little Free Library (LFL) system of take-a-book, return-a-book was born after Bol teamed up with Rick Brooks that same year. The mission of LFL is “to promote literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide and to build a sense of community as we share skills, creativity, and wisdom across generations.” Today, the project has far surpassed that goal and maintains a presence on six continents.
The desire to foster a global community of literacy is the beating heart of the LFL movement. Their Twitter page contends that of the twenty-eight high schools in Chicago with an over-90% black student body, only two have a school librarian. Unacceptable statistics like this are one of the literary disparities that the LFL movement hopes to confront. To that end, their website’s interactive map shows forty-four registered LFLs in the greater Chicago area alone. I’ve seen these mailbox-bookshelf hybrids traversing nearly every axes of identity including race, social class, ethnicity, age, and religion. LFLs have popped up in neighborhoods both impoverished and affluent, in metropolitan and rural areas, in backyards and on consecrated grounds. The LFL movement keeps growing as its uses and creators continue to vary. The community of Edgewater, Illinois, built thirty-five LFLs to serve as a public community library when the local library shut its doors for remodeling, and nine-year-old Zoey Halbert in Colorado Springs built a local LFL out of her old dollhouse because her school lacks a full library.
The LFL website has readily accessible of information about how to build and register your LFL and while each LFL is special, some of them are truly sights to behold (yes, that’s a model of the house from Up). For those of us who can’t take on that type of commitment, there’s an insanely easy way to help keep the momentum of this project going: donate a book. It is actually that simple. First find your area on the LFL map linked above and then drop off just about any book with the knowledge that it’s going to be shared amongst the members of your community. For more information on the project, check out littlefreelibrary.org.