Tiny Libraries

Kelsie Foreman

When Todd Bol’s mother, a school teacher and a lifelong lover of books died in 2009, he knew that he had to honor her in a way that fit her legacy. So, he decided to build a small container in his front yard large enough to house dozens of books so that his neighbors could exchange their favorite books with one another instead of relying solely upon public libraries. Bol’s idea quickly caught fire and now there are more than 90,000 “Little Free Libraries” (also known as tiny libraries) located in communities throughout the world.

If you’ve never seen one of these tiny libraries, they look just like they sound: tiny! Usually no bigger than a large birdhouse or mailbox, these little libraries can house dozens of books in rural areas referred to as “book deserts,” places where there are no other libraries around. It was Bol’s goal to fill these rural areas with books in hopes of raising childhood literacy rates and creating more wholesome communities.

“I really believe in a Little Free Library on every block and a book in every hand,” said Bol in an online excerpt before he passed away in 2018 due to complications from pancreatic cancer.  “I believe people can fix their neighborhoods, fix their communities, develop systems of sharing, learn from each other, and see that they have a better place on this planet to live.”

According to stats provided by Little Free Library, tiny libraries absolutely have the kind of power that Bol hoped that they would. The additions of Little Free Libraries in neighborhoods throughout the world have inspired three out of four people to read something that they normally would not have.

And because these little libraries are so great at building feelings of community, why not bring one into your neighborhood?

Bringing tiny libraries home

If you want to be a registered member of the Little Free Library community, you can register using this link. Your registration does not cover things like the little library itself (you will still have to build and fill one with books) but rather it covers entrance into the Little Free Library community.

As a Little Free Library community member, you will receive a special charter sign, a place on the online map, and access to important news as well as other benefits.

However, if funding is an issue for your neighborhood, you don’t have to register to join the tiny library movement at all. Simply build your own library (there are so many cool ways to do this, too!), fill it with your favorite books, and install it in an area where you think it would do well.

If filling the library is an issue, there are also nonprofit groups like First Book that work to provide low-income areas with plenty of reading materials. Sign up on their website to begin receiving heavily discounted or free children’s books donated by the group’s publishing partners. Additionally, you could check used book stores for “overflow” books. Sometimes, they donate these extra books to causes just like yours.

Those who have tiny libraries recommend that you leave a little room when filling your library. After all, no one will add books to the library if there isn’t room for any.

Help with permits

However, it’s reported that those who create these tiny libraries need to make sure they have the correct zoning permits in place to do so. Though the instances have been few and far between, library-owners have reported that some residents want the cities to get rid of them, thinking that these creations somehow violate zoning laws.

A woman in Texas, an actor in California, and a young boy in Kansas were ordered to remove their libraries when the structures were brought to the attention of city officials. Though things like this shouldn’t dissuade you. Stacy Holmes, the woman from Texas, said in a Los Angeles Times article that besides the conflict with the city, all else with her library has been well.

“Everything has been quiet and peaceful,” she says, “Every time I open [my Little Free Library] up I see new books in there, and there are always people out there using it.”

The team at Little Free Library suggests using their online pages to help answer any questions about zoning laws to prevent any clashes with local governments. Communities aren’t communities without books readily available. Tiny libraries make that happen anywhere that you see fit.

Have you been inspired to join the Tiny library community?

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