Bloomington’s Little Free Libraries

The Little Free Library movement apparently began in 2009 in a town called Hudson, Wisconsin, and has spread like wildfire.

What is a Little Free Library?

It’s a “take a book, return a book” gathering place where neighbors share their favorite literature and stories. In its most basic form, a Little Free Library is a box full of books where anyone may stop by and pick up a book (or two) and bring back another book to share. You can, too!

[The founders] were inspired by many different ideas:

  • Andrew Carnegie’s support of 2,509 free public libraries around the turn of the 19th to 20th century.
  • The heroic achievements of Miss Lutie Stearns, a librarian who brought books to nearly 1400 locations in Wisconsin through “traveling little libraries” between 1895 and 1914.
  • “Take a book, leave a book” collections in coffee shops and public spaces.
  • Neighborhood kiosks, TimeBanking and community gift-sharing networks
  • Grassroots empowerment movements in Sri Lanka, India and other countries worldwide.

The group’s original goal was “to build 2,510 Little Free Libraries—as many as Andrew Carnegie—and keep going.”  But “this goal was reached in August of 2012, a year and a half before our original target date. By January of 2014, the total number of registered Little Free Libraries in the world was conservatively estimated to be nearly 15,000, with thousands more being built.”

I was delighted to come across one of these a few weeks ago near Bryan Park in Bloomington– it’s on E. Davis street, about a block and a half or so West of the park.  This one is a metal [actually painted green wood] box, if I recall correctly, with a door that shuts with a latch.  I took a book from it, although I am already forgetting what it was.  I owe them a book!

Then, the other day, I was walking home and came across this magnificent new one on the corner of First street and Highland Ave.  It has a glass door, so you can see the spines of the books from the sidewalk, enticing you to stop to look more closely; and as you can see, it has an extra bottom shelf for some guardians of the library, and a sort of visitors’ notebook.

Image

The collection of books was excellent, and I snagged the recent (published March 2014!) Philip Marlow re-boot, Benjamin Black (aka John Banville)’s The Black-Eyed Blonde: A Philip Marlowe Novel.  Not too shabby!  Today I took a dog walk back to the box and delivered what I think was a fair trade for that prize, an extra copy of Don DeLillo’s Underworld that I’ve had for ages– which you can see here.  This is clearly a pretty highbrow/ high-quality L.F.L.  There’s a copy of Wonder by R.J. Palacio, one of my kids’ favorite novels.

The proprietor of the box were doing some landscaping work around it when I showed up, and I learned that her L.F.L. is not part of Bloomington’s developing system (which the Monroe County Public Library is organizing, with help from a grant), but is a free agent. She also told me that there’s another box around the corner from the one I’ve seen on E. Davis, this one attached to a tree, like a bird house.

Here’s also a video about the Little Free Library story:

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/72957294″>Little Free Library Story</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user13666567″>Beargrass Media</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

The whole idea could be accused of having a whiff of Portlandia-style preciosity or twee-ness to it.  But I’m a fan.  I can definitely never pass one of these without checking out its contents, and it’s fun to think about how each book got there, and where it may end up.

I will be on the lookout for the new L.F.L’s in town that should be cropping up.  Check them out!

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7 Responses

  1. I once saw one of these, somewhere, and did not realize its existence was part of a more general phenomenon. I took it as an eccentric but obviously sensible construction by one or two interested people. But I’ve known for years that, for example, public libraries often have such a shelf near their front door where patrons are encouraged to help themselves and leave books/magazines as well. And a friend of mine who sailed in the Caribbean for year had told me year ago that boat owners who like to read have such systems in every marina. Boats have little extra room so carrying a few books is about as much as most of them can conveniently manage. So boat owners, when in port, would leave a couple of books and take a couple more. Finally the recycling drop-off at our local public works department has a bookcase or two for books where people are encouraged to take as well as give or leave books.

  2. Interesting about boat owners- that makes sense!

  3. So pleased to see this – Andrew Miller forwarded it to me. Thanks for visiting and for writing!

  4. Thank you for the great LFL!

  5. I saw a give-and-take bookcase in a Chicago Embassy Suites lobby, too. It’s a wonderful thing. I’m going to ask my handy husband to make one for our front yard. In our neighborhood, we have a lot of foot traffic!

  6. btw, also check out @LtlFreeLibrary on Twitter for more info on the movement and photos…

  7. Our little library in SWHarbor has several tiers: their usual selection, then a bookcase of barely used books for a buck or two and then a basket of take aways by the front door and then one of these affairs you describe which popped up outside last summer. And come to think of it there was always a selection of books for the taking in the lobby of Sadie’s apt bldg, some good ones too!

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