At the intersection of DIY, books, and the new sharing economy, you can find one of the most charming, democratic additions to streetscapes the world over. You may by now have seen a picture of one, and if you’re really lucky, you may even have encountered one on at the edge of a sidewalk near you. They are called Little Free Libraries, and they are quickly becoming an unlikely sensation—and they could not come at a better time.
At the genesis of the Little Free Library (LFL) movement is a non-profit organization based in Wisconsin, which began in 2009 with the erection of a little box on a front lawn in a quiet neighborhood. The box was built to look like a one-room schoolhouse, and a few books were placed inside, with a simple posted directive: “Take a book, return a book.”
Today, LFLs pepper front lawns, bike paths and public and private spaces all over the world. Some may be official LFLs, built and shipped from the company in Wisconsin, with each library officially registered and positioned on a globally accessible Google map, but many LFLs are the work of handy private citizens who believe that sharing free books is an act of public good. And in a climate where literacy levels are of great concern and more and more libraries are closing, access to free books is more important than ever.
That doesn’t mean everybody has embraced the LFL philosophy; turf wars, by-law challenges and other obstacles have made putting up an LFL difficult in some places. It’s hard to imagine the objections that the structures, usually not much bigger than a birdhouse, can bring, but as the movement grows, the threat of a free book exchange will hopefully wane.
Meanwhile, more and more citizens are able to enjoy the experience of coming across one of these quirky, delightful libraries, and discovering how a grassroots movement has become a social gathering place, a curiosity, and a global phenomenon.