Yes, walkers might pass the occasional Little Free Library that’s stuffed with junk — old religious tracts, sad coverless paperbacks, Readers Digest Condensed Books from 1957. But those aren’t the norm.
Nearly 10 years after they started in the Hudson, Wis., front yard of a guy named Todd Bol, these little libraries-on-a-stick have spread across the United States, dispensing books, joy and a sense of community.
Bol’s original goal was 2,150 — to surpass the number of Carnegie libraries in the country.
Ha! Think big, Bol; there are now more than 50,000 Little Free Libraries nationwide, in front yards, in front of businesses and at the gateway to parks. They’re stocked by anyone who has a book to get rid of; they’re depleted by anyone who sees a book they want.
People are still reporting spectacular finds, serendipitous treasures, even valuable volumes. Perhaps most important, these little libraries cause people to stop, ponder, look around — and walk away with something to read.
Here’s what some of our readers have found in their local Little Free Libraries:
A sense of community
“I discovered Little Free Libraries while walking with a friend in Bellevue, Wash.,” writes Ron Stevens of Minneapolis. “Once I got home I researched them, eventually building one, and attached it to our picket fence.”
He and his friend discussed Helen Simonson’s novel “Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand,” and not long afterward found that very book in a Little Free Library near Lake of the Isles.
“The best thing about our LFL, though, is the ongoing experience of sitting on our front porch and talking with neighbors and other passersby. Some have even told us they feel the library helps bring the neighborhood closer together.”
A first edition
“I found two wonderful classic volumes in the LFL on the east shore walking trail at Medicine Lake,” writes Ron Fideldy of Plymouth. “The first was a 1926 first edition for The Modern Library of ‘Moby-Dick.’ The more valuable second find was a first edition of John Steinbeck’s ‘Grapes of Wrath’ from 1939. While the dust cover was missing, the tan cover has a brown line drawing of the Okie caravan heading westward. Just as Ishmael was drawn to the sea, my wife and I were drawn to the lake for our evening walk, when I espied these two great works!”
A valuable autograph
“I live in the Longfellow neighborhood,” writes Pat Murzyn. “In 2016 I read an article in the Star Tribune that Kate DiCamillo was putting signed copies of her new book, ‘Raymie Nightingale,’ in little free libraries. She is my granddaughter Ava’s favorite author. We often go for walks together so I told Ava we would check the little libraries for this book. About the fifth one, which was only a block from home, Ava said, ‘Grandma, here it is!’ We could not believe our luck! A signed copy! We still talk about how exciting it was.”
An LFL bike route
“There are several Little Free Libraries in a two-mile radius of my home, and I visit them on a rotating basis, often as part of a bike ride,” writes Peter Berk of Minneapolis. “I often carry books I’ve finished in my bike bag so I can do an exchange. I have read many titles/authors I wouldn’t otherwise have known about or chosen. I also post photos of interesting LFLs on my social media, and my husband has made a few to donate via the Minnesota Woodworkers’ Guild.”
“In early August 2016, I was in the area of 32nd and Emerson Avenue South when I saw what I thought was a Little Free Library across the street,” writes Cathy Todd of Minneapolis. “When I crossed over to take a closer look, I found out that it was a poem library. It was fun to remember that great day.”
The perfect book
“In my St. Louis Park neighborhood you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a Little Free Library — they’re everywhere,” writes Heidi Czerwiec. “But my favorite is at the corner of Morningside and Browndale, by the Browndale Park, at a small wall decorated with beautiful plantings and a small fairy house.
“My kindergartner son and I often stop and peruse the leavings on the way to the playground. One day, a small green paperback caught my eye. Was it — ?
“It was: ‘The New Roget’s Thesaurus in Dictionary Form, Revised Edition,’ edited by Norman Lewis. I have a copy of this thesaurus, bought in the early 1990s, that saw me through three degrees, two teaching jobs, and decades of writing.” It’s now falling apart. “Newer editions just don’t satisfy. I couldn’t believe my luck when I found the same thesaurus, but in nearly perfect condition, at the Little Free Library.”
“My adult children gave me a Library a few years ago as a gift,” writes Pam Gustafson. “I live on a corner that happens to be a school bus stop as well as an entrance to our neighborhood park. While many books are exchanged, the children’s books are the ones to fly away and never return.”
“Among the treasures I’ve found in the past few years are pristine copies of ‘Orange Is the New Black’ by Piper Kerman, the hardcover edition of ‘A Little Life’ by Hanya Yanagihira, and ‘Olive Kitteridge’ by Elizabeth Strout (which I had been wanting to read again — and it showed up, just like magic!),” writes Rob Kirby of Minneapolis. “I also take an odd pride in seeing books I’ve contributed disappearing quickly — especially ones I really want others to read.”
Books that lead to more books
“I’m always eyeballing the one on my block and lucky for me, I have a neighbor that shares my taste,” writes Sharon Wagner of Minneapolis. “Recently, I picked up ‘A Reliable Wife’ by Robert Goolrick on my street. It was a real page-turner. I even found something interesting in the acknowledgments. Goolrick stated that the book was inspired by ‘Wisconsin Death Trip.’ I had never read it, even though it takes place near the town I grew up — Black River Falls, Wis. I bought the book and it is chilling. So, one thing led to another.”
“My husband built the Little Free Library in front of our house as a Christmas gift to me in 2012,” writes Christine Janty. “On three different occasions, I have written down a book title after reading Sunday’s Star Tribune Book section and later that day gone out and found it in my own library! The first time in happened, it was ‘Where’d You Go, Bernadette’ by Maria Semple. Almost magical how many times it has happened, but actually due to the generosity of spirit of my fellow readers. One of the great gifts of my life has been my Little Free Library.”