Little Free Libraries add charm to neighborhoods

Through the organization, many are setting up tiny wooden structures where passersby can swap books.

Leigh Taylor/The Cincinnati Enquirer/AP
Rosie Gieseke reads a book in front of her home in Cincinnati. The family recently installed a Little Free Library in front of their home. Neighbors and friends can come by and borrow or leave a book.

It’s a simple idea: You take a book; you leave a book. And it’s one that’s catching on all over the world through the organization Little Free Library, based in Hudson, Wis. Book lovers can send away for a small wooden structure and set it up so that passersby can take a book now and donate one later. Builders can register their library online at littlefreelibrary.org for various benefits.

Little Free Library suggests that each structure have a steward to watch over it, making sure it stays clean and filled with books. The Little Free Library website offers tips for stewards on such topics as what to do if the library is vandalized.

Todd Bol, the “first steward” and executive director of the organization, made the original little library in 2009 in memory of his mother, who was a teacher. He estimates there are now 20,000 such libraries officially registered worldwide. Many people find them charming. 

“I’ve had plenty of times when I’ve installed [a Little Free Library] and people have hugged them,” Mr. Bol says. He’s heard a lot of heartwarming stories, too: One man told him that the book exchange had gotten his neighbors talking to one another again. A woman said that, on Halloween night, “the kids were paying more attention to the Little Free Library than the candy.” 

Not everyone, however, has welcomed the little libraries. Earlier this summer, a Kansas boy who set up a Little Free Library in his front yard was told by the city of Leawood to take it down because it violated a city ordinance against structures in front yards. But when Spencer Collins appeared before the city council to make an appeal, the council excused his little library from the ordinance – at least until October.

“Saying ‘no’ to Little Free Library is like saying you’re going to stamp out a lemonade stand,” Bol said of the controversy. “The community doesn’t like it.”

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.