In recent years, little libraries of all shapes and sizes have popped up on street corners and sidewalks across the United States. Often built by community members hoping to share their book collection with their neighbors, these “Little Free Libraries” are like a modern-day iteration of the classic bookmobile. Now, Minneapolis, Minnesota, is hosting the first-ever Little Free Library Festival, where book fans and people with a do-it-yourself streak can come together to promote literacy in their communities.
For the most part, Little Free Libraries have more in common with book-sharing shelves in hostels, local laundromats, coffee shops and other public spaces than the traditional public library. Based on a philosophy of “take a book, leave a book,” these little libraries can take many forms, from birdhouse-like wooden structures to repurposed newspaper vending machines, Robert Wirsing writes for the Bronx Times.
The Little Free Library organization began when a resident of Hudson, Wisconsin, named Todd Bol built a little model of a one-room schoolhouse, filled it with books, and installed it in his front yard as a tribute to his late mother in 2009. Together with a local educator named Rick Brooks, the two began installing Little Free Libraries across Wisconsin and sharing the idea with people across the country. According to their website, by 2011 there were at least 400 free libraries tucked into nooks and crannies of cities across the U.S.
“Something we long for in this digital age is that connection between people,” Bol tells Margret Aldrich for Book Riot. “I want to show how Little Free Library is about readers inspiring readers inspiring readers. It goes on and on.”
The Little Free Library Festival will be held on May 21 in Minneapolis’ Minnehaha Park. Starting at 10 A.M., anyone interested is invited to take part in all sorts of book-centered events, from dressing up their pups as favorite authors and book characters for the Literary Canine Contest and Parade, to a giant book swap and Harry Potter trivia contest. But as Aldrich writes, the centerpiece of the festival is a workshop in building Little Free Libraries. Not only can festival-goers learn how to build their own streetside book-swap boxes, but they can lend a hand in constructing 100 new Little Free Libraries that will be distributed to communities across the country, Aldrich reports.
While Little Free Libraries might seem like a harmless and innocent means to promote literacy and share books with neighbors, at least a few of the roadside lending libraries have caused minor legal kerfuffles in recent years. According to the Los Angeles Times’ Michael Schaub, officials in Los Angeles and Shreveport, Louisiana have told some residents that their homemade libraries violated city codes and that they would have to remove them. In both cases, city officials told the little libraries’ caretakers that they were obstructions, and they could face fines if the lending libraries weren’t removed.
Still, for the most part Little Free Libraries have been embraced by their communities. For anyone interested in making their own at home, the organization has posted helpful tips and guides for building and installing the little booklending boxes in their hometowns and neighborhoods.