Update: My Rant on Little Free Libraries

When I wrote my rant about Little Free Libraries, you would have thought I was criticizing apple pie and baseball. For the record, I love apple pie but can’t stand baseball (the game is long and my attention span is not). I was called everything from an “elitist prick” to a child hater to being against literacy.

Do I stand by my thoughts on Little Free Libraries?…for the most part. But here are a few points I want to refine.

1. Engagement with Your Local Public Library
If people spent the amount of time they devote to Little Free Libraries and used that time to lobby for their local public libraries, THAT would be a good thing. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, of course, but citizen action is good.

2. Library “Deserts”
You’ve heard of “food deserts“? The same thing applies to people who live in urban and rural areas that don’t have easy access to a public library. This is an opportunity for public libraries to partner with groups to sponsor Little Free Libraries with materials that people in those communities would be interested (e.g., let’s NOT go down to the local used “book barn” and pick up dusty copies of all old books) in reading.

3. Go Where Needed
This is related to above. If public libraries don’t want to partner on this, then think about where your LFL might be most needed. I’ll be blunt (warning: mini-rant ahead!): I get that you like to read. And you want to put something cute in your front yard. But ask yourself this: If you live in a predominantly homogenous, middle to upper class neighborhood with low unemployment, good schools, and easy access to a library, is your LFL helping that many people out? Why not partner with people in other neighborhoods who might benefit more? Step out of your comfort zone.

4. But I Still Want a Little Free Library!
No one is stopping you (for the most part; see below). But instead of just throwing a bunch of books in the box (which is mostly the depressing feel I get when I visit one), think about what might interest people in your neighborhood. Or maybe do a “theme” LFL and promote in your city. Maybe you can be the LFL for sci-fi or fantasy YA lit or Christian lit in your community.

5. Tear Down this LFL? No.
Should a 9-year old boy have to beg city council to keep his Little Free Library open? No, of course not! I’m generally a “reliable liberal” (or whatever that category was on the Pew survey). However, when it comes to my property, I take a decidedly libertarian bent. Put up all the LFLs on your property that you want!

So yeah, Little Free Libraries are fun. They can create excitement and collaboration in the community. It’s just not a catch-all solution to things like access and funding of brick-and-mortar libraries and the services they provide. And they shouldn’t be. They’re a different animal.



12 thoughts on “Update: My Rant on Little Free Libraries

  1. There’s one by my home in Vermont which is forever filled with cheap Romance novels. Definitely not things that this local is interested in. Still, I like sharing my books, and occasionally put things in there that I think someone else might appreciate. So I like the collaborative aspect, but (as you say) it is no replacement for a REAL library…

    Also, on another note: Since libraries are SO MUCH MORE than just collections of books, do you know of any proposals for other names for the spaces besides “libraries”?

    • Little Free Libraries does have a nice ring to it! Little Free Box O’Books? 🙂 – at least when people hear/see the word “library” – they know books are involved.

  2. Good of you to expand on your thinking. Some of the comments made by others seem a little extreme.

    Our school took the same philosophy, of placing LFLs where they were needed in our community. Our free/reduced levels are high, and we know that some homes don’t have dedicated space in which to keep books. I think LFLs also send a visual message, that literacy is important around here. The “norming” that might occur from these types of efforts can also be helpful.

    One thing to note: Even if a public library is within close proximity, it doesn’t mean people have access to them. Some do not want a library card, for fear that they will lose books and have to pay back fines. I was surprised to learn this when I took my current position as an elementary principal three years ago. It is a reality.

    We don’t view LFLs as a catch-all, but as a way to augment community literacy in combination with our other efforts, such as opening up our school library once a month.


  3. I completely understand your point of view, but I am very glad you added number 5 in there. I remember reading about Spencer having to take his Little Library down and being infuriated, not just because he should be able to do whatever he likes (and Mum & Dad say is ok) at home, but because he was doing something beautiful that should have been encouraged and instead he was slammed down for it. The love of reading and community spirit that 9 year old showed was amazing and I am so glad he fought for his Library 🙂

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  6. Good food for thought. In most Canadian urban-core neighbourhoods, those on low + very-low incomes live in some of our more expensive neighbourhoods. I live in an expensive home, but some of my friends and neighbours can barely afford to live here — but love good books! It’s just a matter of sharing. Neighbours who can afford to buy don’t mind sharing. I feel sad that so many Americans are so paranoid about “socialism” (especially when so “Christian”). Really, it’s just about sharing.

  7. Your article reminds me of my local library.My local library is a modern one build in 2005 which means it is well equipped, unfortunately this library is like a “dessert” no one is there to utilize it.Even if this library is free to utilize it as it is in many libraries, you will think it will be full loaded with people. Only 500 ft away of my local library ,there is club which is full loaded most nights.You wonder why these young people sacrifice their education for leisure.Yes learning institutions might have there own libraries but don’t forget the community is taxed to build these valuable resources and it won;t hurt to utilize them.

  8. Your points are valid, however, think about the people who just dont have time to go to public library real quick to search for a good book to read, or those who are just in town for a few days and would like to read something without having to purchase a library card or be restricted to reading strictly in the library. There is a also a borrow/give book shelf system in Europe (usually in hostels and education institutions). If I brought a book with me from the US to Germany I could switch that for another book completely for free. Its a great system for those who are on the go and dont have time to go to a library. Its convenient!

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