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Books in a Box: Little Free Libraries

More than a decade ago, Todd H. Bol paid tribute to his deceased mother, a teacher and avid reader, by constructing a tiny schoolhouse-shaped box, placing it on a pole in his yard and filling it with books.

What began as a memorial has grown into a global movement, with over 100,000 Little Free Libraries worldwide. These wholesome book-sharing boxes can be found in neighborhoods in every state and more than 100 countries. They can be found in sleepy towns, bustling cities, and even at places of historical significance, such as the Library of Congress and the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

In fact, Little Free Libraries outnumber traditional public libraries by at least 3-to-1. Anyone can start their own LFL. The organization’s website, littlefreelibrary.org, explains how in five simple steps:

But what is it about this concept that has taken hold and driven so many people from all walks of life to start their own LFL?

We asked some local Little Free Library owners about what inspired them. While their stories are as individual as the book-sharing boxes themselves, it all comes down to caring for their community and, of course, a love for reading.

Tamerlane Drive LFL

When COVID-19 shut down schools and libraries, Genevieve Ayers, then age 10, recognized a void that needed to be filled. 

“My daughter decided to get the library for our neighborhood in reaction to the pandemic,” says Melissa Ayers, Genevieve’s mom.

They repurposed an old newspaper vending machine for their LFL. 

“We are not carpenters,” Melissa Ayers says. “The process was smooth and simple.” 

The company also provides building plans, installation tips and pre-made boxes on their website.

Genevieve, who is now 11, was a junior-level Girl Scout at the time. Her Little Free Library project helped her earn the Bronze Award for making a difference within her community. She even had the support of Stafford Supervisor Taneshia Allen.

Brent Street LFL

E. Carter Fitch and his son built their book-sharing box together. The Fitch’s felt inspired by the Little Free Libraries they stumbled upon during family walks.

“We wanted to start a Little Free Library because I thought it would be a great way to continue to grow the love of reading in our children,” Fitch says. “It is a great way to get our kids to donate and trade books to keep our personal bookshelves new and exciting.”

Since they live in an area close to UMW with a lot of walkers, they thought others might enjoy it as much as they do. 

“We wanted to provide a fun thing for the neighborhood when people are out walking,” Fitch says. “I think communities need LFL to foster a greater sense of community, encourage the sharing of resources and inspire the joy of reading.”

Littlepage Street LFL

Former bookstore owner and book-lover Suzy Stone received her Little Free Library as a gift. 

“I have a friend who had one in another part of town, and I loved the idea,” she says. “I asked for a LFL for my birthday, and my partner had this one custom built.”

Little Free Library ownership also creates a connection between neighbors and provides a way of meeting people you otherwise wouldn’t. “I think it helps provide a sense of community,” Stone says. “I will frequently strike up a conversation with someone ‘shopping,’ if I’m working in the yard.” 

Stone’s ownership experience has been positive, even joyful. “We installed the LFL so I could see it from my home office,” Stone says. “The favorite part of my day is to see someone’s face light up when they see a book they want to read. It just makes me smile.”

Rhiannon Ellis
Rhiannon Ellis is a freelance writer and author, a fitness instructor, and owner of Impact Fitness. She resides with her two children in her native Williamsburg and on their mini-farm in Charles City.

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