20 November 2023

A Box of Books for Readers Who Walk


Several stacks of old hardcover books

The so-called "Little Free Library" movement began in Wisconsin (USA) fourteen years ago. This from the Little Free Library website:

"In 2009, Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin, built a model of a one room schoolhouse. It was a tribute to his mother; she was a teacher who loved to read. He filled it with books and put it on a post in his front yard. His neighbors and friends loved it, so he built several more and gave them away." [Link]

It's become something of a cottage industry. Unfortunately, from my perspective, the pricing model for the boxes themselves is often unreasonable, putting the notion out of reach for many. A typical street box sold on their site averages $350; this does not include the needed installation materials (post, post topper, and installation hardware) or shipping.* I've seen "artisan built" library boxes priced online at over $1000 (also not including shipping or installation supplies).

My brother, Architect I call him on this blog, and I combined our design-and-build forces to create what I call a wee free street library for my neighborhood block.**

I combed local thrift stores and rummage sales to find a decent box. (Unlike Architect, I don't have the core building skills or tools to make one and did not want to trouble him with that.) After a few months I found what looked to have been a homemade wedding gift, a porch mailbox it seemed. Turned on one end, it seemed like something that could work. It's small, but usable (I ended up adding a small shelf for trade and mass market paperbacks.)


Two images of a wooden box approximately 12" by 24". The names of two people have been carved into the side in cursive lettering. 1 pic shows the box closed, the other standing in edge with the door open.

 I sketched some design ideas and sent them off to my brother. 


Inkpen sketches of several shapes for a proposed library box

The more we thought about it, the more I wanted something simple that echoed the lines of our house.

3 pics: a small house with pale grey siding & several angled rooflines; a rough sketch of a library box with similar lines; & a closeup of the roofline of the library box in front of the main roof of the house

The inspiration for this was the Little Free Library that Architect built for his neighborhood. Its design echoes the design of his own home—which he also designed and built.


2 pics of the Little Free Library designed & built by Lou Host-Jablonski. Its lines, shape, & colors mirror that of his house, which can be seen in the background.

Architect expanded on my second drawing by adding a more expansive roof, enlarging the door from my sketch, and using beadboard paneling to mimic the siding on our house. He also built the support platform and post then gave it all a layer of primer. Except for the beadboard and door hinge, all the materials were repurposed from Architect's wood shop supplies stash.

4 pics of our street library under construction shows the side bracing being attached, the beadboard siding, clamps holding the front door edge, & the initial assembly of the final box.
I spray-painted the exterior in a gray shade that mirrored our house, added some white trim, and painted the interior with a nice, deep blue.
Front & back pics of library box in a sunny backyard after its exterior & interior have been painted.

The roofing is cedar shakes, professionally applied! A neighbor was having his roof redone this summer. I bartered with the roofer: wee shingles in exchange for a homemade fruit pie and a volume from the reference book set, Critical Survey of Mystery and Detective Fiction (Salem Press, 2008). The shakes were also repurposed from another of the roofer's projects.

3 pics: roofer John-Neil sits next to the just-roofed library box; a closeup of his work on the cedar shakes; & the cover of one of the volumes of Critical Survey of Mystery & Detective Fiction.

The final paint job matched the roof shingles to ours and added some signage to the door.


3 pics: Library box with cedar shakes roof; the box after the shingles have been painted dark grey; & a view of the box with its door signage that reads "Hello Readers," "Take a Book," & "Leave a Book."

Architect kindly did the installation. We'd had the municipal utilities department mark the gas line for us—it runs right along the front sidewalk so we needed to be careful in terms of digging the post hole. I added a concrete stepping stone (left over from some backyard garden work) so passersby can access the book box more easily.

3 pics: A man crouching down near a wheelbarrow filled with dirt. He hand-digs a hole in the ground. Middle pic shows the yellow spray-painted lines on the lawen indicating the location of buried gasline. Last pic shows same bearded man shoveling concrete mix from wheelbarrow into the post hole.

The final view with the first titles! (We've already had some children's books added by a friendly someone.)


3 pics: Left is a view of the new street library in front of the house whose design it mirrors. The middle pic is a closeup of the first set of books being offered: a mix of fiction, mysteries, non-fiction, sports, a children's book, & two magazines.

 And two sweet notes: 

  • When opening the front blinds yesterday morning I saw a white-haired gent take a book out. He looked at it, smiled, and held it close to his chest as he walked away. (It was a paperback copy of Dickens' The Pickwick Papers.)

  • When we were putting the post in, a neighbor lady from a few blocks over walked by. I told her what we were doing and she smiled a very happy smile. "Oh good," she said, "now we have one!" (The next nearest street library is 5 blocks away.)
Such a lovely sense of communal friendship and fun right from the start.


Note: Architect is indeed an architect. His firm has specialized in "sustainable and socially conscious architecture since 1972." See this slideshow lecture for the Wright Design Series in Madison, Wisconsin in which he (Lou Host-Jablonski) describes Design Coalition's mission and work over the past 4+ decades.


* The LFL website does have an FAQ which suggests that they are aware of the $ issue: "I can’t build a library or afford one of yours, what do I do?" Included is this link to a more DIY approach--though their tone is a tad condescending—they refer to those folks as having "the odds ... stacked against you."

** The name Little Free Library is trademarked, though not the idea as far as I can tell. See the LFL FAQ for more info: "Does Little Free Library Ltd have a trademark on the phrase “Little Free Library”?


Photo Credits

Stacks of old books: Ed Robertson via Unsplash. Book cover from Amazon. All other images by J.A. Jablonski or Lou Host-Jablonski.



© J.A. Jablonski 2023. All rights reserved.

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