Making Reading Social in Real World: Little Free Libraries

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First it was the mysterious crop circles that popped up everywhere. Then, since the advent of the internet things like mysterious cat icons, banana snakes, pianos and who knows what else have been popping up all over. The latest pop-ups, are, however a thing called Little Free Libraries.

And, although the Internet has played big role in their rise, Little Free Libraries are happening out there in the real world and not online.

Define: Little Free Library

Little Free Library

Little Free Library (Photo credit: Canadian Veggie)

Quoting from the Little Free Library website, “It’s a “take a book, return a book” gathering place where neighbors share their favorite literature and stories. In its most basic form, a Little Free Library is a box full of books where anyone may stop by and pick up a book (or two) and bring back another book to share.”

So, what we have here is a library that is free, little and functions according to the honor system. The books are chosen and supplied by readers. Although there is a steward responsible for each library, there is in fact no continuous oversight. Nobody will check your membership card, stamp you books or demand that you pay an overdue fee.

Readers are free to pick any book from the library and read it. To keep the system going, it is expected that readers exchange the Little Free Library  books they take with books from their own collections- fill up the communal car after using it.

Interestingly enough, it is not expected of a reader to return the exact book he took from a Little Free Library at any point. This means that you can take a book and keep it forever. For the system to work, readers should top up their local Little Free Library.

Where do they come from?

English: I took photo with Canon camera of And...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This whole movement, which is not tax deductible in the USA, can be traced back to a mother. Todd Bol of Hudson wanted to honor his mother. She was a teacher with a passion for reading.

He built the first (modern) Little Free Library in the shape of a one-room school house. He set it with free books in his front yard. The rest, as they say, is history. People liked it. People copied it. It experienced existential validation by being celebrated on the Internet.

Note: This is not the first instance of a library movement. Andrew Carnegie, a philanthropist, supported 2509 similarly free libraries around the turn of the twentieth century.

This project has spread the world over. Currently, Antarctica and Greenland are the only two major land masses without at least one Free Little Library. This is not really surprising if one take into account the general attitude towards compulsory Reading, Writing and Arithmetic classes displayed by Polar bears and Penguins in general. China also does not have a Little Free Library. Does India have one?

Little Free Library in the News

The official view is that you can not steal from a Little Free Library, because the books are free to begin with. The truth is that even these book heavens are targeted from time to time. A Milwaukee Little Free Library member noticed that hundreds of books had disappeared from the Library where his wife was the steward.

This is not surprising. Selling hard covers to secondhand bookstores will be one way to fence the loot for drinking money.

Little Free Libraries make the news for much better reasons.

If you are a Doctor Who fan, you definitely know about the TARDIS or the Time and Relative Dimension in Space time machine. It looks like a 1960’s style London Police Box. (Think of the old red telephone booth, paint it dark blue, take out the telephone, write Police on it, and there you have it.)

A whole number of  TARDIS  Little Free Libraries have appeared in the UK and US. This is, as far as we know, the first Little Free Library subculture. It will be interesting to see whether other literary places start featuring. Perhaps the Ginger bread house of Hansel and Gretel, or what about a Harry Potter sub-theme?

Little Free Libraries are also credited with promoting literacy and community spirit. Albany resident, Marryanne Rings, who also happens to be a retired English teacher, is convinced that people are much happier and have experienced improved quality of life because of their local Litte Free Library.


The more cynical members here at InstaScribe say that the Internet also has a Little Free Library, although it is not little by any stretch of imagination. It is called Pirate Bay. The parallels are in the fact that after the original sale of a book, the authors and the ever generous publishers make no more money! One book or one copy of a book can be read by a whole city!

But I’m reminding you, they are cynical and even consider Twilight to be literature!

Zen Scribe concludes, “What goes around comes around. The more there are readers, the more there are writers. The more there are writers, the more there are people with developing imaginations.”

InstaScribe loves this initiative. We love books, and we love innovative ideas to get more people reading.

How about starting a Little Free Library on your street? Send us pictures! Share your experiences.

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