Little Free Libraries

They’re dotted about the neighborhood. There must be a half dozen or more within a half mile of our front door. Not every neighborhood is so complete but the South Wedge area neighborhoods certainly are. They are unique in design and filled with unpredictability – from Seuss to Tolkien to E.L. James and beyond. They are Little Free Libraries, a free book exchange. The concept is simple, take a book, leave a book. They are always open and require no library card!

Little Free Library, LLC is an official not for profit 501(c) (3) with a small staff and lots of volunteers. It was started in 2009 in Wisconsin and as of June 2016 boasts over 40,000 official sites worldwide. On the website, one can buy a Little Free library to install at their home, school, or any public space that would welcome it. These libraries come complete with registration and charter. There is a map to help you locate every registered library.

Our South Wedge area neighborhoods are chock full of unregistered, bandit, outlaw libraries. When I checked out the website it became clear that none of the locations I frequent are actually on the map; only a handful in all of 14620 are legit. But don’t be disappointed. It’s really easy for folks to register them after the fact and gets you on the map. Maybe we should call the unregistered ones Small Free Libraries just so we don’t run into legal trouble. On the upside, given that so many unregistered sites are here in our little neck of the woods, I can only imagine how many free book exchanges there really are all over the world – maybe hundreds of thousands!!

I love the “Big Free Library” too. You can’t beat the ability to have any item in the county sent to your local branch for pick up. There’s no need to pay the Red Box fee; movies are free from the library. There is computer access, local papers to read and activities for the kids. Our most local branch, thee Frederick Douglass Branch (formerly know as the Highland Branch to most of us) is a gem. This site up the street has the best staff in all of Monroe County. Ms. Williams is like a second mother to all of our kids that are her kids in the after school program. She gets the homework done, takes them outside for games, and generally keeps a watchful eye on them.

We frequent the Frederick Douglass Branch and check out lots of books and videos. For the past ten years from September to June we have walked by this branch twice a day. Somehow despite its proximity and our frequent passing by, we still manage to rack up fines. Just ask our youngest. Years ago, after checking out our items, he looked up as we were leaving and said, “Wait Mom, you forgot to pay!” Given our regular late fees, he didn’t realize that checking out books was free. Talk about embarrassing! We walk by twice a day, receive e-mail reminders and can renew electronically (the trifecta of book renewal) and we still rack up the fines.

That’s my personal theory on how the Little Free Library came to be – a way to exchange books and never face a fine!! Of course we’ll continue to frequent our local branch but we’ll also make exchanges in the Little Free Libraries too. They too have their advantages. They are always open. Take Fido for a walk and grab a book while he does his business. Stroller pushers, swap out the books for the kids while you’re cruising about the neighborhood. Like to read trashy romance novels but are too embarrassed to make the purchase? No worries, you’ll find one out there somewhere I’m sure.

One Little Free Library in the neighborhood dubbed the “National Geographic Recycling Center” now houses books of all genres and the occasional National Geo as well. Many from our collection have been diverted from the actual recycling bin to the Caroline Street location with the hope of being loved by a new owner! The majority of the Little Free Libraries that I’ve come across have been lovingly crafted by amateur and professional craftspeople in the neighborhood alike. When you are out and about and happen upon one, stop and check it out. You never know what you might find.