Little Free Libraries Movement Connects Local Neighborhoods With Literature

Not one library looks the same as the next but they all have the same goal – sharing a passion for reading with the community.

Children in North Potomac pose with the Hernandez family's "Little Free Library.

Children in North Potomac pose with the Hernandez family’s “Little Free Library.”

The small, hand-built boxes popping up in front of local homes are part of a national movement named “Little Free Libraries” that’s encouraging communities to built mini “libraries” in front of their homes for neighbors to share their favorite books.

The trend started in 2009 when Todd Bol of Wisconsin build a model of a one-room schoolhouse as a tribute to his mother who was a former school teacher and filled it with books. He put it on a post in his front yard with a sign that read “free books.” From then on, the idea took off.

Jessica Hernandez of North Potomac says she learned of the project through a librarian who built Little Free Libraries along the U.S.-Mexico border and said she was inspired to bring the concept to her neighborhood.

“As the mother of a young child, early literacy is often framed in the context of school readiness,” said Hernandez. “But the act of reading itself is less important than what it ignites which is curiosity, a joy of learning, and a desire to be engaged.”

Using plans available on the “Little Free Library” website, Hernandez and her family started building. They completed their library over the course of a weekend spending less than $100 on materials.

Their library was name a “Library of Distinction” in 2013 by the “Little Free Library” organization and the Hernandez family will be celebrating the project’s one-year Birthday this month.

“It’s this excitement and broader sense of stewardship that we hope to share with our daughter and the children of this neighborhood,” Hernandez said. “We look forward to seeing how this project evolves. As evidenced by their interest, I’d say the world is in good hands.”

Children in the neighborhood are the primary users and caretakers of the Hernandez Little Free Library, taking turns being the “librarian.”

“The little free library is a free and easy to use window to the greater works of literature,” said 10-year-old Noah Hoyle.

There are currently close to 20 of the libraries registered on the “Free Little Libraries” website in Montgomery County and more than 50 in Maryland.

To get listed on the map, Little Free Library creators need to get an official charter sign and number for a fee of $34.95 per library.

Lisa Farber poses with a picture of her father and her "Little Free Library," alongside her sister Sandy Bandier.

Lisa Farber poses with a picture of her father and her “Little Free Library,” alongside her sister Sandy Bandier.

Lisa Farber of Silver Spring built her “Little Free Library” in November of last year as a tribute to her father who passed away almost three years ago from an inoperable brain tumor.

Her father Ted was a scientist, an educator and a “history buff.” When he passed, Lisa used the “Little Free Library” concept as a way to pass on his books and his legacy to the community.

“Years earlier, Dad had donated his entire collection of Pharmacology/Toxicology periodicals to Howard’s Pharmacy School,” Farber said. “However, we were still faced with a mountain of books we simply had no space to house. I immediately thought that a ‘Little Free Library’ would be an excellent memorial to our Dad and a fitting way to share some of his books with others.”

Lisa wanted to make her “little library” completely out of recycled materials so she worked with a carpenter to build the project out of half of an old kitchen cabinet that was stored in her basement.

“My handyman then used scrap plywood to make a back, one side, and a roof,” Farber said. “He also cut out the cabinet door and installed a Plexiglas panel to be able to see the books inside the ‘Little Library’ as well.  I then painted the structure and it was mounted on a post at the edge of my yard complete with its ‘Little Free Library’ plaque.

The local “library” owners say that the addition of a “Little Free Library” has been welcomed in the community.

“We have had a good deal of foot traffic to the ‘Little Library’ so far, even in the terrible winter we just had,” Farber said. “I even saw footsteps in the snow leading to the little library! I put new books in there several times per week so I can see how much is taken and dropped off. I also look at what topics seem to be popular so I can replenish the “Little Library” with things people enjoy most.”

“It is a great conversation piece with neighbors and others passing by, and we love to have kids camp out on our front lawn reading books,” Hernandez.

Find more information about the “Little Free Library” movement through the organization’s website here.

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Valerie Bonk

About Valerie Bonk

Valerie Bonk is a multimedia reporter and community engagement specialist with Montgomery Community Media (MCM).


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