Little Free Libraries
Community-led book boxes are big on sharingBy Leah Chester-Davis
Across the state, small wooden boxes perched atop posts are being heralded as mini-town squares because of their knack for bringing people together.
Though some may be mistaken for oversized bird houses, these “Little Free Libraries” (sometimes shortened to LFL) are filled with books, inspiring communities statewide.
North Carolina has more than 500 of these little book boxes registered through littlefreelibrary.org, located from the mountains to the coast. They each have their own personality and story, often depending on the steward who oversees the Little Free Library. All are inspiring and promote literacy and community.
“The first time I learned about them, I knew we needed one on our farm,” says Union Power Cooperative member Cathy Linn-Thorstenson. She and husband Robb Thorstenson own Wise Acres Organic Farm in Union County and host many schools, troops and other groups for learning experiences, and to pick strawberries in the spring or pumpkins in the fall.
Her 85-year-old father built the structure as a birthday surprise. Her mother painted the structure neon green with the universal recycling symbol of the three chasing arrows. “I wanted to reflect the goals of our organic farm so we thought we would highlight that this was the ultimate recycling method,” Linn-Thorstenson explains.
The family installed the library just outside the entrance to their farm so people can access it even when the farm is closed. It was so well received that they opened a “branch” in their barn where they added bookshelves and more books.
“From then on there was never a day during strawberry or pumpkin season where there wasn’t at least one or two kids sitting in the kids’ chairs or the barn floor happily reading,” she says.
From a tribute to a movement
Little Free Libraries are sometimes erected in honor or in memory of a teacher or loved one, or as a birthday or anniversary gift. That’s how the idea was born. In 2009, when Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin, was looking for a way to pay tribute to his mother — a teacher who loved to read — he ended up building a model of a small, one-room schoolhouse. He set it atop a post at the edge of his front yard and filled it with books with a sign indicating the books were free.
The tribute turned into a movement. Tiny structures with the message “take a book, leave a book” began popping up everywhere. There are now more than 40,000 registered Little Free Library Book exchanges in all 50 states and over 70 countries.
These Lilliputian libraries seem to work wonders in many ways. There is almost always a steward (a person in charge of the library) who possesses a love of reading and wants to share that with others. As a result, neighbors get to know one another, a sense of community is built, the love of reading is instilled, a sense of wonder shared and inspiration ignited to build more Little Free Libraries.
LFLs across the state
In North Carolina, people of all ages are enthralled by them. Many are works of art, inspired by regions or personal interests.
Cathy McIntrye-Ross, of Highlands in Macon County, fell in love with Little Free Libraries when she first saw one in Athens, Georgia. It took a village to design and build her community’s LFL, with several residents and businesses helping out. The Highlands School construction class built the structure, now located in a new park.
“You do not have to have a library card and it is available 24 hours a day,” says McIntyre-Ross. “I feel like it has increased a sense of community. So many people have been delighted by it.”
One of the state’s youngest stewards is Avery Linkous, the 7-year-old son of Greg and Ouida Sizemore Linkous, of Clemmons. Avery says his favorite thing is the steward stamp. He stamps every book that is donated with his official Little Free Library Stamp. His parents want to instill a love of reading in their young son, and they’re witnessing the budding love Avery has for chapter books and making sure others enjoy the library.
“Avery is all about the stock,” Ouida says. “He likes to keep the library full, and if a book sits for a while he is ready to rotate it out. He likes to tell anyone who will listen about his library and how it works. If he sees someone walking by and they don’t stop, he gets pretty bummed. He wants everyone to have a book!”
In the Asheville area, Lani Ray involves four generations of her family in her Little Free Library. She recruited a “very dear 90-plus in-law (John Olup)” to build the structure. Children in the family help select books for the children’s section.
“I like anyone who happens by to feel included,” she says. “I like that the LFL gets lots of use. Having been a long-time educator, I value books and people having them in their homes. I’ve talked to some children who, previous to the LFL, had no personal books.”
The small town of Oriental, population around 900, sits near the junction of the Neuse River and the Pamlico Sound and is outnumbered by sailboats and fishing boats (more than 2,500). Bob Dillard and Cecily Lohmar’s Little Free Library gives a nod to this sailing capital of North Carolina with their sailboat-inspired library.
“We have a lot of ‘cruisers’ pass through our harbor from all over the world,” says Dillard. “If you live or travel on a sailboat, fresh reading material is always in demand.”
Author Stephen King once wrote: “Books are a uniquely portable magic.” Little Free Libraries are ensuring more people have access to that portable magic.
Find a Little Free Library near you (or build your own if there’s a need)! Visit littlefreelibrary.org to view an interactive map.