Little Free Libraries are an idea whose time has come
At a distance, the “library” on the corner of Dallas and Curve Streets looks like a birdhouse. This library can hold about 50 books, free for the borrowing, and is one of five in the Chattanooga area.
People from Anchorage to New Zealand have built these boxes, stewarding small libraries in their neighborhoods and registering their location with the nonprofit Little Free Libraries. LFL keeps books in circulation by asking people to leave a book when they take a book.
Trevor Slayton, the local steward of the library, says it ideally lets “people express themselves by sharing books that meant something to them.” But it also promotes literacy by placing books in neighborhoods. (Not to mention that the boxes make some pretty sweet Pinterest photos.)
Slayton has operated two Little Free Libraries in the Northshore for a year. While he’s seen examples of a sharing economy, he’s also discovered people taking three books at a time—without leaving books themselves. “The whole idea of sharing books is still very foreign to many people,” he says.
To build the libraries, he approached Home Depot. He needed $400 dollars worth of lumber and paint. Home Depot built the libraries for free because the company will “build anything for vets and kids,” Slayton says.
Hamilton County Read 20, an initiative by the city to promote reading, built several of these kinds of libraries in the city’s recreation centers, according to Slayton. Children of parents who work odd hours are often shuttled to the centers. A library in the rec center provides books “right when these kids get off the bus.”
Corinne Hill, executive director of the Chattanooga Public Library, says, “When I was a teenager, I would read the back of a cereal box.” For her, growing up surrounded by books was the most natural thing. A Little Free Library, she says, “becomes very personal. It becomes very unique to that block.”
While libraries have curated collections, the Little Free Libraries are more random, dependent on what people put into them. “There’s a place for the randomness,” Hill says.
Andre Harriman inherited his Little Free Library in late spring when the president of the Murray Hills Neighborhood Association moved to Florida. To seed the library for the neighborhood of 478 residents, he spent $20 at McKay Used Books, choosing mysteries, science fiction and religious books from the shelves.
“If it’s unusual, I put it in there,” he says. He once put out a few French novels, and a picture book in Spanish, and those disappeared.
He keeps a stack of books in his garage, and if a book has been sitting in the library, he’ll rotate it. He trades for new titles at McKay.
He visits his neighborhood Little Free Library every couple of weeks. In the spring, he will probably give the Little Free Library a new coat of paint.
A couple of metal benches sit next to the library. When he drives by, he’s seen people sitting by the library with their children, reading.
For more information about Little Free Libraries, visit littlefreelibrary.org