Little Free Libraries

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Little Free Library inspires a love of reading, builds community, and sparks creativity by fostering neighborhood book exchanges around the world. The organization helps people around the world start and maintain free “take a book, share a book” book exchanges called Little Free Libraries.  Most Little Free Libraries are placed in front yards, parks, gardens and easily accessible locations. The Libraries are built to withstand weather of all kinds and hold 20-100 books. Some Libraries are located in coffee shops, in or near restaurants and community centers.

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TRANSCRIPT

Molly Ness

I'm joined today by program manager, Margaret Aldridge. Thank you so much for joining us today.

 

Margaret Aldridge

Thanks, so much for having me.

 

Molly Ness

So, our work in ending book deserts in this podcast is to showcase the programs and people who are trying to increase book access in communities all around our country, so tell us the story of Little Free Libraries. How did you come to be? How did they run? And how are you tackling the issues of book deserts?

 

Margaret Aldridge

Little Free Libraries is a neighborhood book-sharing box so with a little Free Library you can find a book that you want to take home, or you can leave a book for somebody else to find. So, the first Little Free Library was built in Hudson, Wisconsin in 2009. And it was created by a man named Todd Bowl. So, Todd built this Little Free Library as a way to honor his mother who had passed away. She was a teacher; she was a lifelong reader, and she had really tutored kids in the neighborhood on their reading skills. So, Todd said that this would be really appropriate way to remember his mom. And so, he built this little box that looks like a one-room schoolhouse and he put it in his front yard and he kind of waited to see how the neighborhood reacted to it. So, at first, it was kind of slow, and then he had a garage sale and he called it the garage sale to launch a thousand libraries because he started to see his neighbors interact with this little box of books. So, they would remark on it. They would stay and have conversations. They would share books in it. They would just really like slow down and enjoy each other and enjoy the act of sharing books. So, he thought that he wanted to share this little bit of magic with the rest of the world and that was really the spark of The Little Free Library movement. So, from that first Little Free Library, there are now more than 90,000 Little Free Libraries around the world so that’s- they're in all 50 states from California to New York. They are in 91 different countries and that's everywhere from Pakistan to Australia to Brazil to Japan really spanning the globe. So, I love the fact that just a simple idea has really sparked a global literary movement.

 

Molly Ness

And my understanding is it's not so simple as I'm a handy person I'm just going to create a box or I'm just going to carve something into a tree trunk and grow some books out there. My understanding is there’s more of a formal process in creating a free library. Is that the case or am I misinformed?

 

Margaret Aldridge

Well, there's a couple of different ways you can do it. You can definitely build your own Little Free Library. I would say 65% of the Little Free Libraries out there, people have built them themselves. We love to see the creativity behind those like you said there are tree trunk Little Free Libraries. There are libraries that look like Doctor Who's Tardis. I mean everything across the board so you can build your own. We love it if you register that with the Little Free Libraries Organization so, in that way, we can add it to the world map. We can track where everybody is. We can stay in touch with you. Another way to do it is if you're not handy at all like maybe me- you can purchase an already built Little Free library from our nonprofit and that already comes registered or you can- certainly there are Little Free Libraries out there that are not part of the Little Free Library System too.

 

Molly Ness

Now if you decide that you're going to be one of these people who looks into their community and goes, well book access is an issue. I've got a ton. Let's share the love. And I'm going to go ahead and register. What are my responsibilities? Am I responsible for upkeep and curating the collection? What would that work entail?

 

Margaret Aldridge

Yeah, we call the people who have Little Free Libraries stewards. So, they're really stewards of this little neighborhood book exchange. So, your responsibilities are to keep it looking great, keep the books in there flowing- you know. We say there aren't a lot of rules about how you run your Little Free Library and something special about this Little Free Library network is that every Little Free Library is different, and every Little Free Library reflects the community and the needs of the community. So often if a Little Free Library is on a school playground, that's going to have a lot of kid’s books flowing through it. If it's at a retirement community, that will have reading material that really reflects those residents. And it's also important that the Little Free Library can serve different needs such as if you are in a high-needs area that Little Free Library is going to be an access point for books, for reading materials. This is complementary to your public library, to your school library as a source of book access. If you're in a middle-class neighborhood where you have a public library down the block, that Little Free Library might serve as a way to bring the community together as a spot to meet neighbors, to talk to people. So, I like that there is a Little Free Library can be adaptable to what the needs are in the area.

 

Molly Ness

So, tell me about some of your favorite Little Free Libraries. My hunch is that you get a- an influx of photographs of people's creativities. What are some of your favorites?

 

Margaret Aldridge

Well this past year there was a really exceptional Little Free Library created in Idaho and it was created by a woman named Cheryl Lee Armitage Howard. And you might have heard this story. She had a 110-year-old cottonwood tree in her front yard that the city said well that tree is dying, it needs to come down. And instead of- you know just raising it to ground level, she kept this huge stump and created a Little Free Library on it. So, this Little Free Library is big enough that you can walk inside of it. It has interior and exterior lighting. And it's really God.... where we've seen stories about this Little Free Library show up in Turkey and in Indonesia and in Russia. So that one has been really special this year, but I love to see things like Little Free Libraries with a garden rooftop or a Little Free Library that kids in the neighborhood have decorated with their handprints on the side. I like to see when people do something kind of innovative like have a seat exchange in their library as well as having books in there to share. So- I mean really just seeing the variety and creativity is phenomenal.

 

Molly Ness

And for listeners out there who haven't had the pleasure of seeing some of these photographs, I'm going to encourage you to check them out on both your website and social media. As well as, I’ll start to link some of these on endbookdeserts.com. Hopefully some of- listeners out there who are maybe a little bit more crafty and creative than Margaret, you are and myself included, they will serve as inspiration for you. One of the things that I noticed in the Little Free Libraries in my area is that sometimes the collection themselves tend to become a dumping ground for books that are sort of outdated or not necessarily the ones that really motivate and inspire readers. I just came back from Nerd Camp in Michigan where I had the pleasure and good fortune of receiving a lot of arcs or advanced reader copies of some of the books that are due to be released in publishing houses put tons of these advanced reader copies to build excitement around these books. And so one of the things that I purposely do is that I take those advanced reader copies after I'm done with them and move them into Little Free Libraries so that kids who are going to those Little Free Libraries feel like well, I'm not just getting the discarded books and nobody's really interested in- in fact I'm getting the ones that haven't even hit Barnes & Noble or Amazon yet to sort of make sure that we're really choosing books that are going to connect to readers and make them feel like they are current and relevant in the reading material that is found in these Little Free Libraries. So, can you talk to me a little bit about the impact? I know you said that you've got about 90,000 around the world. What are you noticing that's happening because of these Little Free Libraries?

 

Margaret Aldridge

Yeah, I think that you know one of the reasons it spread so global, kind of that there’s this universal connection points that everybody can relate to. So, one of those is that the love of books and the feeling of the importance of reading and wanting to kind of accelerate a culture of reading where you live. And another- the other one that's really universal is really just the need to connect to people- you know that desire to really give back to with your community and connect with those around you. So, we've seen, funnily enough, kind of similar stories whether it’s in the US or in Sudan or in Italy. And often those are stories- well in Sudan, for example, there's a woman named Malaz who her area does not have public libraries or school libraries. And so Malaz- when she learned about Little Free Libraries, thought well that's something I can do, and you know that a piece of it too. You know a Little Free Library is doable for people. It’s not a lot of red tape there. There's not a lot of materials that need to go into it, so Malaz started a Little Free Library Network in her area. And they're still challenges that go with that, but we like to see that their stories of just individuals realizing that they can make a difference. And you were talking about what the responsibilities of a steward are and part of that is kind of activating your community. So even though it's just one person that starts it, you can really activate your community to hold a book drive, to keep those Little Free Libraries full of good books, or let people know that this Little Free Library kind of belongs to you and belongs to the community. It's for everybody to share, so we see a lot of stories like that. And in South Korea, there was- the man who started the first one there, he came across little Free Libraries just googling the word library. You know it's interesting to hear how the phenomenon has spread and often, even though Little Free Libraries is very analog, wooden box of books, the internet, and social media has been huge in spreading the movement. So this man in South Korea, he thought well, that seems like a good idea and he- you know- told me that he was pretty much an introvert and he really didn't talk to people in his neighborhood, but he started a Little Free Library and that created a way for him to have conversations with his neighbors. At first, the question he was getting was what the heck is this thing- you know? And so, he got to be the ambassador for book sharing in South Korea. So, a lot of those similar stories are happening all over the US and all around the world.

 

Molly Ness

And as you share your story and the story of the Little Free Libraries with our podcast listeners today, my hunch is that many people didn't know how easy it is to be a steward and the benefits of it and I'm really encouraging people to check out how to become a steward themselves so that the phenomenon can continue to grow. And speaking of growing, what do you see down the road for Little Free Libraries? Where do you think the future is going to take the organization?

 

Margaret Aldridge

Well we would really like to amplify our contributions to book access- you know that’s really a place where we really can benefit readers and also a place where we can really grow. So, one of the things that we want to do is focus on high needs areas. So, right now- often with a Little Free Library- the first one that arrives in a city will often be in a middle class or in a more well-to-do neighborhood and then it kind of spreads from there- you know to different areas. We would like to really focus on those high needs areas where book access is a real problem. And some low-income neighborhoods, there's only one book for 300 children and that- statistics like that are staggering. So, we have a program called the Impact Library Program. And with that program, it's basically a program where someone can apply to receive a Little Free Library at no cost, and it comes with a post. It comes with a little Free Library. It comes with a set of books to get you started in your community. And that's a program that’s donor-driven and that’s something that we really want to grow.

 

Molly Ness

Wow. I love that so much. That literally- everything is right there for you to head out into your front yard or in your community and make it happen. I think that's going to be particularly powerful in some of our rural areas which have different sets of challenges- who are serving low-income folks especially because of the geographic and social isolation that often goes hand-in-hand with some of our rural areas so my hope is that we'll see even more Little Free Libraries popping up in those communities. So, as we wrap up let me ask you my favorite question which I ask of every guest. You've been speaking today about how Little Free Library has transformed communities and different people all around the world. So, in the spirit of talking about books as a way to bring people together, I'm going to ask you to reflect on a book that has been particularly powerful or has really stuck with you. A book from your past or present and it may be a book that you got in a Little Free Library or maybe it's a book that you will pay it forward to a Little Free Library near you, but what's that one book that's really changed you or inspired you or motivated you as a person and as a reader?

 

Margaret Aldridge

Tough question. And I bet you hear that every single time you ask it.

 

Molly Ness

It's such a tough question, but what I love about the question is that when you ask this question- it’s a simple question, but so powerful and that every time I ask this question, people smile and it brings joy to them thinking about their lives as a reader. And what really has stuck with them and we get these memories of childhood or college or whatever their reading experience was. I think you can also tell so much about a person and their life story just by using a book as a window into that- into that person. So, no pressure to choose something particularly powerful, but I think it's really a transformative question.

 

Margaret Aldridge

Well if I can say one quickly and then I can two- two answers.

 

Molly Ness

I will give you two.

 

Margaret Aldridge

The book right now that I think everybody should read is called Tell Me How It Ends by Valeria Luiselli and she's a Mexican American writer writing about kids immigrating to the US from Mexico and it's very powerful. The book that I would say I've been thinking about a lot recently that has had a big impact on me is Little Women. Little Women is the first book ever that I remember staying up until 2:30 in the morning to finish reading in my bed with a flashlight. My parents didn’t know I was still awake, and it was one of those- it did stick with me because of the story of powerful women and sisterhood.

 

Molly Ness

Thank you for that. When I think of Little Women, the character that always jumps to mind is Jo. What a strong powerful, dynamic sort of ahead of her own time woman. And certainly, the power of reading and literacy for that group of characters in Little Women and in Jo in particular- speaks to this collective power of reading, to bring us together, and to transform lives. Margaret, thank you so much for all the work that you are doing to spread the love of reading and book culture across literally- across the globe with the work of Little Free Library. Thank you for your time today and for your passion about ending book deserts and getting books into the hands of readers all over the world.

 

Margaret Aldridge

Thank you so much for having me.

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