There are many reasons to find yourself on an unfamiliar residential street. Maybe you are taking a new walking route with your dog, driving to a first-time playdate, following a construction detour, or browsing local homes for sale. Whatever the reason for an adventure into unexplored territory, there is always the chance of stumbling upon a Little Free Library. These intriguing book houses placed in close proximity to street-side property lines often have a wide windowed door to display the shelves inside while keeping the contents safe and weatherproof. But who and what are they for? How are they funded and purposed? Can you use one or have one on your own property? Follow along to find the answers to all these questions and more!

Why Are They Here, There, and Everywhere?

According to their website, Little Free Library, more than 30 million adults today cannot read or write above a third-grade level. Just 15 years ago, in 2009, Little Free Library seized the opportunity to make reading material accessible and free for all, positively impacting illiteracy rates. By partnering with local, kind-hearted people willing to fund the registration and installation of an adorable miniature book house, these libraries also encourage a friendlier and more welcoming atmosphere in all kinds of neighborhoods. Nowadays, there are more than 175,000 little libraries in 121 countries around the globe, sharing over 400 million books with readers of all ages! This statistic is limited to the little libraries that are decorated with the official LittleFreeLibrary plaque that features a charter number, meaning that location is fully registered and detailed on the website (and in their user-friendly app), so those numbers do not include unregistered libraries put up by other good-natured locals. Little Free Library is a non-profit organization with many hopes and goals centered around its core values of Access, Collaboration, Equity, Respect, and Transparency. Their staff and volunteers aspire to put a personally relevant book in the hands of every reader, assuring it is unhampered by time, space, or privilege. While many of us have stacks of books gathering dust, most of those living in poverty cannot call a single book their own. Becoming a steward of a Little Free Library is an excellent way to boost community morale, create a healthy outlet for bored minds, and share access to materials that would otherwise go unused or unappreciated.

How Do They Work?

These libraries are insanely simple to use, and anyone is welcome. Upon finding one, simply open it up, browse the selection, and take one (or more) new-to-you reads home with you! Remember that taking a book is not the only option, however. If you happen to have some reading material in your possession that is no longer of interest, add it to the shelves of any library for someone else to discover! No strings, no complications. Occasionally, a steward will have a journal or logbook inside the library, allowing visitors to note the day they stopped by and have a chance to say thanks. When I take a book from a library that does not have a logbook, I will often say “thank you!” aloud and wave to no one in particular–a silly way to express gratitude for the generosity of the steward and the community that it belongs to. Finding the libraries can feel like a scavenger hunt and give kiddos something to look out for while driving along. If planning ahead is more your style, also offers a detailed map of all registered locations, making it easy to plan a walk to a few different libraries all in one go or source which libraries you may have missed nearby. Regardless of location, the materials are all first come, first serve and function entirely on the honor system and generosity of local residents, so we should all do our best to keep them clean, stocked, and well-loved! 

What Do We Do Now?

Now that you and your family are familiar with the existence of these libraries, you can choose how you want to be involved! Load up the Little Free Library Map on a webpage or through the mobile app in order to find free libraries–filtered by locations near you, certain cities, or even by individual charter numbers. Watch out for those adorable mini-houses as you drive around town, especially as you visit unfamiliar locations. Instead of boxing up old books to donate to the thrift store, keep a few in your car to add to the next library you drive past. If you have a home with an easily accessible property line and space for a book house, consider becoming a steward and installing your own free library to share books with your neighborhood and visitors. The only requirement to be a part of the LittleFreeLibrary Organization is that you register the bookhouse and clearly display the plaque and charter number. This means that your family could assemble the book house yourselves as a DIY project or choose from the wide selection of libraries and accessories from the online store. However your family chooses to be involved, simply keep in mind the mission: to be a catalyst for building community, inspiring readers, and expanding book access for all. Now, get out there and explore, share, and support!