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Midwest Lit: Little Libraries, Lots Of Fun

New Book Celebrates The Little Free Library

Ali Eminov (CC-BY-NC)

“It all started with a sign that read ‘Free Books.’” That’s how the first Little Free Library began, as well as how “The Little Free Library Book” by Margret Aldrich begins. It’s a simple idea—take a book, return a book—that’s been common in coffee shops, grocery stores, and other community places for decades.

Yet somehow putting those books inside quirky, usually adorable little “buildings” turned the concept into an international phenomenon. And as we like to remind people (only a little smugly), it all began here in Wisconsin.

Aldrich’s book tells the story of how the Little Free Library grew from one man’s front-yard tribute to his mother to the thousands of other people that have built their own libraries in every state and more than 80 countries.

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Although you can buy a premade library, many people prefer to design and build their own. And this is the great fun of the book, seeing so many Little Free Libraries and hearing from the people behind their creation. Some look like barns, schools, and houses. Others are covered in bottle caps or look like television sets.

Besides showcasing all of the creative libraries, “The Little Free Library Book” is a practical handbook with ideas and tips for designing, funding and actually constructing them.

The idea of books in a box isn’t new. More than a century ago, Wisconsin’s Lutie Stearns brought thousands of volumes to isolated Wisconsin communities. Although many cities had libraries by the end of the 19th century, most rural farm families had little, if any, access to books. So the Wisconsin Free Library Commission, led by Stearns, decided to bring the books to them. By the time Stearns left the Commission in 1914, she’d created 1,400 traveling libraries, many of which she delivered herself, traveling first by horse and buggy and later by automobile.

So it seems fair to say that if anyone was going to bring books to the masses it was going to be a Wisconsinite.

In case you wondered, my favorite library featured in the book is the one made from an ash tree in Ontario. You can find a Little Free Library near you using this map.