All Hail the Little Free Library
Updated: Aug 13, 2021
As far as I’m concerned, the best innovation of the last ten years isn’t Google Home, the Las Vegas Golden Knights, or self-driving cars—it’s the Little Free Library.
Thanks to this grassroots movement, anyone can put up a cute little box in their yard with books inside, and other people can come and get them FOR FREE, or drop off their own books TO SHARE.
So you can be out on a walk, minding your own business, and suddenly [cue angels singing, floods of golden light slanting down from above] … THERE ARE BOOKS. Honestly, what could be better? To me, these little boxes are like a hug to the community, a message of love, kindness, and generosity. I love them and I love the stewards who put them up. Even though I've never met any of them, I know they’re my kind of people.
I was the kind of kid who whipped through a stack of books every week and had to go to the library regularly to feed my habit. I would literally walk home from the library while reading one of the books I’d picked out. (Not in winter. I grew up in Montreal.)
Back then, there was no way to order up a library book online and have it delivered to your local branch. There was ONLY a local branch, and you had to read what they had. I loved picking books more or less at random, and I found a lot of winners that way.
Now, I'll hear or read about a book and just put it on hold online. I don’t spend hours wandering along in the library, just pulling books off the shelves, to decide what to read. When I go to the library, as often as not, I just dash to the hold shelf and head out again within 30 seconds. I don’t even talk to the librarian—it’s all self-serve at Vancouver Island Regional Libraries. (Mrs. Dunkley and Mrs. Gamble, lovely librarian ladies of my youth, I miss checking out books with you.)
But I digress. The great thing about the Little Free Library (LFL) movement is that it gives you the chance to pick up some books at random and see if they appeal to you, just like in the old days. You get to judge a book by its cover and not by its Goodreads rating, its writeup in Oprah’s magazine, or what your book club decided to read this month.
It’s like a little gift from the universe, just for you.
Sometimes you come up dry. (Why are there so many Catherine Cookson and Clive Cussler books in Little Free Libraries? Come to think of it, that sentence could simply end after the word “books” and still ring true. #sorrynotsorry.)
I have about ten of these magical places within a couple of kilometres of my house, so I can easily fit a dog walk and LFL visit into my day. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve scored In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware, Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson, and Life by Keith Richards, all of which I’ve been wanting to read, and which I will, of course, put back once I’ve read them.
Sometimes I see something I’ve already read and loved, which gives me a nice, warm feeling of anticipation on behalf of the lucky person who hasn’t yet read it and still has that wonderful experience ahead of them.
And, while I love the dopamine buzz of finding something I really want to read, I think the best feeling of all is leaving a book that really made a difference to me in the hopes that it will have the same impact on someone else. I've left Carry On, Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton in more than one LFL.
According to the Little Free Library’s website, the concept was invented in 2009 by Tod Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin. After he built the first library and put it up in his front yard in memory of his mother, he partnered with Rick Brooks, a fellow Wisconsinite, to establish more of these book-sharing boxes. Their inspiration was Andrew Carnegie, the philanthropist who is credited with establishing 2,811 public libraries between 1883 and 1916.
Clearly lots of people loved the idea as much as I do. By the end of 2017, there were more than 60,000 registered Little Free Libraries in more than 80 countries.
My local LFLs appear to be unofficial—they don’t show up on the Little Free Libraries map. I don’t think it matters, and I don’t think the inventors of the movement would mind. After all, Little Free Library describes itself as “a non-profit organization that inspires a love of reading, builds community, and sparks creativity by fostering neighborhood book exchanges around the world.”
Rogue or not, pirate themed or official schoolhouse design, out in the woods or in the front garden,for me, it's LFL FTW.