The Little Library Movement: How to Jump On

Tiny libraries lead to big lives with the little library movement. Dive into these literary treasure troves and see how you can get involved.

Published August 18, 2023
little free library outside

You might see little libraries set just back from the street, sometimes a cleverly decorated box on a shelf. They're slowly but steadily popping up throughout communities, much like bookworms that slowly devour their way through their to-be-read pile.

It's a free book exchange program for anyone who wants to read or share their own books, and there's no easier way to spread stories than with a little library.

What Is a Little Library?

A little library or Little Free Library is the brainchild of a nonprofit organization that looks to bring books to communities across the country — no matter which state or county, regardless of a population of two million or a population of twenty. For the Little Free Library, books are a chance for all to dive into a book regardless of "time, space, or privilege."

So, then, what is a physical little library? It's precisely that, a tiny, little library that's no more than a box. You can find them throughout neighborhoods, looking much like a birdhouse with a door on the front to keep the books safe regardless of the weather.

Because they're outside or in the community, they're a way to provide free book access, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Some people even make a day out of little free library hunting.

@savysbookshelves little free library hunting!  i CANNOT believe all the good books i found today! definitely my best lfl hunting session yet! #BookTok #bookrecommendations #booktokrecommendations #5starreads #booksyoushouldread #littlefreelibrary #littlefreelibraryhunting #cresentcity #sarahjmaasbooks #rileysager #frombloodandash #thrillerbooks #bookgirlies #bookaesthetic #barnesandnoble  Chill Vibes - Tollan Kim

How Little Libraries Work

A Little Free Library is the responsibility of a community member or members who want to sponsor one. For communities that may not have the financial resources or other underserved areas, the Little Free Library offers grants for no-cost outposts. 

Like take a penny, leave a penny, the same idea applies to the library. The book exchange is accessible to anyone who walks by and happens to spot a book that catches their eye. And you don't need to worry about a library card or late fees. All you need to do is consult the map.

Cute red wood little library

Tips to Start Your Own Little Library

Anyone can start a little library. Here's how:

  1. Find a location in your community. If you aren't putting it on your own property, you'll need to get permission from the property owner to place it there. Local businesses (like coffee shops) may allow you to place the library inside or outside. Check with your local government for city-owned properties like community parks. 
  2. Register your little free library to get the ball rolling.
  3. The next step is to either purchase a little library or build your own with blueprints. Typically, a purchased one runs around $180 to $400, depending on the size. 
  4. Your library is given a unique charter sign that will provide any and all relevant information to the little library network and anyone who is searching for a local little library in their neighborhood or community. 
  5. Clean out your own book collection and invite friends and family to do the same to stock it up. Then spread the word! 
Quick Tip

If the cost of a little library or building your own isn't quite manageable, we get that, and you can always tap into your community. Consider local scout troops, carpenters, or centers that might be interested in teaming up with you to make the little library a reality. Of course, you can also upcycle some furniture you already have. 

How to Donate to a Little Library

All it takes to donate to a little library is to find the closest one to you! Grab the book or the handful of books you want to add to the collection. If the shelves are overflowing, you may want to find another, as you don't want to jam books in and tear or rip pages and covers. 

Some libraries are monitored by businesses, public libraries, schools, or even grocery stores, so with the same errand when you're picking up the kids, grabbing some milk, or swinging by the bank, you can also donate a book or four. Or borrow a book! 

What Types of Books Should I Donate?

Like a typical library, you'll often find an array of different book genres from library to library, with no two stock being exactly alike. Some libraries may request specific types of books, but others are simply a revolving door of books, regardless of genre. 

Some libraries take part in "Read in Color." This is a program that helps to bring voices and narratives to the world, including LGBTQ+ and BIPOC, that may not otherwise be accessible to children and adults. 

family visiting little library

Little in Size, Big in Heart

The next time you're taking a walk or out and about in your community, keep your eyes peeled for a little library. You can even make a day of it and go on a scavenger hunt for all the local little libraries. Don't forget to bring a few books along to fill in any empty spaces! 

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The Little Library Movement: How to Jump On