Have you heard of the Little Free Library movement? These little gems are fostering a love of reading in communities everywhere. Teachers and their students can get in on the action, too! Here’s how you can get your own school Little Free Library up and running in no time.
What is a Little Free Library?
In 2009, Little Free Library creator Todd Bol had a simple idea: As a tribute to his teacher mother, he built a miniature one-room schoolhouse, mounted it on a stake in his front yard, and filled it with books. “Patrons” could borrow a book and bring it back or donate one of their own in exchange. The first Little Free Library was born.
The idea quickly caught on, with folks around the neighborhood, and soon around the world, loving the concept. There are now a whopping 80,000 Little Free Libraries in more than 90 countries, with new ones being added all the time. They’ve spawned a global community of people who believe free access to books is a vital part of healthy communities.
Little Free Libraries often pop up in community spaces, like parks or playgrounds. You’ll also find them in police stations, hotel lobbies, shopping malls, inside or outside local businesses, and even outside homes and apartments. They frequently have benches nearby for readers to enjoy the books they’ve found.
How is it different from a public library?
In a country like the United States, where we’re lucky enough to have public libraries in many communities, you might wonder why the Little Free Library has become such a phenomenon. After all, public libraries offer thousands of books in one place, along with other media, computer access, and more. Most Little Free Libraries just offer a few dozen books. So why do they thrive?
Part of the reason may simply be location. While you usually need to make time to go to a public library, Little Free Libraries are found wherever people already are. Exchange a book while taking the dog for a walk or grab something to read on your lunch break in the park. Chances are you’ll meet others in your community along the way.
How can a school use a Little Free Library?
While studies show that 91 percent of schools in the USA have libraries or media centers, that doesn’t necessarily mean kids have ready access to them. In many schools, library visits happen only once or twice a month, and kids are generally urged to use the time to learn various library and literary skills, rather than just browse the stacks.
A school Little Free Library is entirely different. Kids can visit it anytime, just to find a book they like. Put one on the playground for kids to visit before and after school and during recess, or on weekends with their parents. Add one to a cafeteria for use during breakfast, lunch, or the study halls often held there.
Like the idea of a Little Free Library but don’t really need one AT school? Create one as a class or school project for the community instead. Install one nearby the school and maintain it for all local residents to use and enjoy.
How do you set up a school Little Free Library?
The Little Free Library website has detailed instructions and tips for setting up your own, but here’s an overview with schools in mind.
Appoint a steward.
The steward is in charge of the library overall, coordinating the project and ongoing maintenance. Their name will be registered with the website, and their contact info should be readily available. For a school Little Free Library, a teacher or member of the PTA might act as primary steward. Remember, though, that being a steward doesn’t mean doing all the work. Try to get students involved throughout the project—that’s part of the community-building appeal.
Choose a location.
First, decide whether your library will be inside or outside. Outside libraries have the advantage of being accessible 24/7 (or whenever school grounds are open), but they’ll need to be weatherproofed. Indoor libraries should be located in a place where students congregate. Lunch rooms, playgrounds, and lobbies are all ideal locations.
Build and decorate the library.
This is the fun part! Your school Little Free Library can be made of anything you like. The official Little Free Library website is full of free plans for those looking to build their own. They also sell pre-built models . Looking to save money? Upcycle an existing structure, like an old newspaper vending box, for an easy shortcut. (Get more upcycling, cost-saving ideas here.)
Your library can be as big or small as your school desires. Some people like to divide theirs into sections for kids and adults, or fiction and nonfiction, etc. Make sure to get your students involved in choosing the design and bringing it to life. (Hit up the #littlefreelibrary Instagram tag for major inspiration.)
Fill it with books.
You’ve got the structure. Now where do you get the books? It’s time for a book drive! Ask parents to clean out their shelves or hit up local bookstores to ask for donations. Chances are you’ll wind up with far more books than you can use at one time, but that’s a good thing. Sort and store them to restock when your library looks a little low or when beloved books start to get a bit too ragged to keep lending.
Having trouble finding books or donations? The Little Free Library organization partners with Interstate Books4Schools to make books available free or at low cost. Check out our own roundup of inexpensive book resources here.
Put it on the map.
This is optional, but registering your school Little Free Library with the website and putting it on the official map will help others find it, making you part of the global phenomenon. You’ll receive a charter number that earns you perks, like access to low-cost book resources. You can also join the private Facebook group and chat with others for inspiration and guidance.
How do you maintain it?
Like anything found in a public place, a school Little Free Library will require regular maintenance to keep it looking and performing at its best. Plan to monitor it at least weekly, cleaning out any trash, wiping down woodwork and glass, and checking on inventory. On a long-term basis, expect it to need touch-up paint or minor maintenance every year or so. Students can handle all of these chores; appoint a committee or have a different class maintain it each month during the school year.
What about vandalism? There’s always a chance of minor vandalism with a project like this, but about 80 percent of Little Free Library stewards say they’ve never had an incident of significant vandalism. You can reduce the chance of petty damage by involving students in as many aspects of your library as possible. If they respect it, they’ll be less likely to damage it. (See more info on vandalism, maintenance, and liability here.)
Do you maintain a school Little Free Library? Give us your best tips in the comments to help others get started.
Have more Little Free Library ideas? Come and share in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.