Little Free Library: Family Fun in Miniature

There once was a man from Hudson, Wisconsin who wanted to read. And then he wanted to share his books. But how could he share his books with all who were interested? And created a little dollhouse-sized library for his front yard.  Whoever wanted a book, could help themselves. Or whoever wanted to lend their books could leave them. Thus was the beginning of the worldwide phenomenon – the Little Free Library and all it’s offspring of little wooden boxes full of community sharing.Little Free Library

Little libraries of all shapes and sizes have popped up around the world. If you are passionate about reading and want to get involved, here are some ways you and your family can join the movement.

  • Donate your gently used books to your neighborhood’s Little Free Library for readers of all ages to enjoy. Maybe make a game of giving according to a monthly theme (ie Fall books in September, Holiday books in December, etc…)
  • Design and build a new little free library together as a family (don’t forget to register it to make it official).
  • Purchase a box directly from the  Little Free Library Organization to help support their mission.
  • Become “Library Staff”: If you live in Minneapolis, volunteer to be a Little Free Library Caretaker Family at a nearby park.
  • Host neighborhood book exchanges or book swap parties.
  • Interact with others on Social Media about Little Free Libraries.
  • Fundraise for those who want to host a LFL ($34.95 to register the libraries).
  • Leave thank you notes for the property owner who shares free books in front of a home.

It’s easy to get involved with Little Free Libraries, and it’s easy to excite the whole family!

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Little Free Library Family Fun – 8 Ideas to Try

Anyone who is a fan of the concept of Little Free Libraries, also knows the downside of uncurated collections. Sometimes they are empty, sometimes they are full of library rejects, and sometimes they just have inappropriate materials in them (am I the only one to find a rotten banana?). Rather than give up, we have ideas to make your visits more fun.

Little Free Library near Gammelgarden Museum in Scandia MN
Little Free Library near Gammelgarden Museum

Regular maintenance helps build better boxes. For a couple of years after a Little Free Library was installed at the park by my house, I would stop on my daily walk to make sure it was properly stocked and neat – filling it from my family’s book collection when it was empty. This paid off. People started to visit more often as they noticed it was well-maintained. It has been full of good kids books for over a year now. I rarely have to do more than straighten the books on the shelf anymore. In fact, I have so many books to get rid of, I may need to find a new box to adopt.

Here are some ideas Joy has had to add a little fun to a box near you:

1. Start a Community Poetry Book

I found one of these in a waiting room at a hospital once and instantly fell in love with the idea. The poetry book I found was a simple handmade book from blank paper stapled along the spine. There were instructions on the first page to take the book home, enjoy the poetry, and then add your own poem before passing it along. You could get fancy here and buy a hard cover journal, but you can’t guarantee that anyone will participate or that someone might not take the journal, rip out your poetry and keep the book for themselves. This would be a great project for a group to start, because the more poems starting out a book, the more likely it will keep going. Don’t like poetry? Try short stories, jokes or recipes.

2. Book Recommendations

Have your kids write a short book recommendation after finishing a good book and leave it tucked in the front cover – or even write it on an empty first page. Maybe others will add their opinions before passing along the book. If you don’t get a movement going, at least your kids get some practice writing book reviews and develop their love of reading.

3. Design Bookmarks to Go With Books

I love having a bookmark that belongs specifically with the book I’m reading. Kids will, too. Encourage creativity in kids by making a bookmark to go with a book they are ready to share. Sometimes you can find bookmarks to print and color on the author’s website, if not, design your own. Use it while you have the book and then pass on the book with a matching bookmark. Maybe the bookmark could contain a book recommendation or a favorite quote?

4. Leave a Box of Conversation Cards with a “Take-One” Note on It.

This was another idea I stumbled on at a Little Free Library at a school. Some enterprising visitors left a box of index-sized cards with science experiments on them. You could take home a card with instructions on how to do the experiment, try it home and then return it for a different card on your next visit. This could be done with dinner conversation cards, joke-a-day cards, or even homemade cards. If you make your own, leave a few empty so others can add to them.

Girl perusing Little Free Library offerings
Little Free Library in front of the Community Center

5. Pen Pals

This idea may require some parental guidance to make sure their pen pal is not predatory. If you frequent a box regularly, you could leave little notes and see if other patrons begin to respond. This idea reminds me of books I read as a kid where kids ended up making friends with someone they never would have talked to through an anonymous correspondence. If you are not afraid to give out your address, you could also do this while traveling.

6. Share Book-Themed Toys or Games

One of my favorite things to do in a thrift store is to find book-themed toys and then set them next to a copy of the corresponding book for someone to discover. Related toys can be a fun way to encourage literacy – especially in smaller children. If you’ve grown out of your Very Hungry Caterpillar game, leave it with a copy of the book for another child to discover or wash that Raggedy Anne no one plays with and send her off with the book for a new adventure.

7. The Little Free Library Hike

We are blessed with a wonderful neighborhood full of Little Free Libraries. One particular route takes us through a “secret passage” (a bike path) to a fairy land full of fairy gardens and Little Free Libraries. We actually end the walk at the real library but have fun checking the boxes as we go. If you don’t know where nearby libraries are, you can search a map by location here.

8. Make Little Free Libraries Part of Your Road-trips

I know some people do this with Redbox, picking up and dropping off videos as they go along the road. We could also map out the Little Free Libraries along our route when traveling. Wouldn’t it be fun to refresh the pile of books as we go? Another benefit is finding beautiful boxes in unexpected places. The two photos in this article were libraries we stumbled on while traveling.

Little Free Library in front of the old Williams Free Library Museum in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin
Little Free Library in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin

You may notice that most of these ideas are exercises in giving more than taking, but I have found that people respond in kind. Give it a try and see what happens. And if you find something wonderful, absurd or puzzling on your visits, we would love to hear about it. Share a snapshot or a story in the comments!

Beyond the Little Free Library

Since the inception of Little Free Libraries community members have embraced the idea of sharing with other types of libraries – Little Free Food Pantry, Neighborhood Art Blocks, A Seed Library at Birchbark Books and more.

Little Free Native Seed Library in front of Birchbark Books in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Image courtesy of Birchbark Books – Stewards of the Little Free Native Seed Library, Minneapolis

Twin Cities Parks with Little Free Libraries

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This article combines and republishes two articles originally written by Gianna in 2015 and by Joy in 2018.

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