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.)
I sketched some design ideas and sent them off to my brother.
The more we thought about it, the more I wanted something simple that echoed the lines of our 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.
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.
The final paint job matched the roof shingles to ours and added some signage to the door.
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.
The final view with the first titles! (We've already had some children's books added by a friendly someone.)
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”?
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.