Little Free Libraries, where you don’t need a card and there’s never a fine

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Uma Szczesny checking out a Little Free Library on Walnut Street.

MANCHESTER, NH – Maybe you have seen one – a little house or cabinet mounted on a post in front of a house. Sometimes they match the house, other times they are brightly painted with flowers or butterflies. These are Little Free Libraries, mostly owned and managed by homeowners who love to share books.  

The idea is that anyone can stop by and grab a book to read or drop a book off. You don’t need a card and there is never a fine.

The first Little Free Library was built by Todd Bol in Hudson, Wisconsin in 2009. He put it on a post in his front yard and filled it with books. His neighbors loved it so much he built several more and gave them away. The Little Free Library organization that Bol and Rick Brooks founded reports that today there are more than 100,000 Little Free Libraries around the world.

There are more than a dozen in Manchester. Rebecca Linehan, Librarian and Media Specialist for Wilson and Hallsville Schools, has set one up at each of the schools where she works.

“As a librarian I’m always looking for ways to get more books to people,” said Linehan. Library space in the school is limited and she uses the Little Free Libraries as a way to expand services to students and their families. “We have a lot of families with preschoolers, so I always make sure to have board books and picture books in the little library for them to take home,” she added.

Linehan said that many of the children in the neighborhood are not able to make it to the public library. Their families can’t take them and it is too far to walk on their own. 

Interest in her little libraries waxes and wanes. In the Spring, when the school went to remote learning because of COVID-19, there was a big uptick in usage. People picking up classroom materials from the school would also grab books to read. Other times she doesn’t see much use so she makes a point of promoting it. 

Little Free Libraries considers their program a book-sharing program and unlike a traditional lending library it is OK if the books don’t come back. Making sure children have books of their own, in their home, is one of the most successful ways to improve reading achievement. 

Linehan keeps her libraries stocked with books from Goodwill and Savers. She welcomes donations of board books, picture books, and series like Captain Underpants and Treehouse books. She has limited space to store books and suggests that people drop a few off at a time in the box. 

Librarian Rebecca Linehan shows off some books at her school’s Little Free Library.

Visiting a Little Free Library

If you are thinking of visiting a Little Free Library, the organization maintains a list of registered libraries on their website that allows people to find them. 

Dan Szczesny and his five-year-old daughter, Uma, have been chronicling their adventures visiting Little Free Libraries on his Instagram page. So far they have visited 47 Little Free Libraries in New Hampshire and several more in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. 

Their first adventure was a trip two years ago to the seven libraries in Manchester that were listed at that time. “We packed a lunch, which we ate in the back of the car, stocked up two boxes of our own donations and away we went, like a book treasure hunt,” said Szczesny.

Whenever they visit a Little Free Library they make a point of leaving at least as many books as they take. They rarely visit the same Little Free Library more than once, so the books they take aren’t returned to the same box.  “But we have on occasion returned books to other boxes, just to keep stock flowing,” Szczesny said.

And they never know when they are going to come across a new library, so they keep a box of both kids and adult books in the car to swap out.

Uma’s  best find so far has been The Field Guide to Safari Animals, “My favorite was finding the animal puzzle book where you can read about the animals, then put together a puzzle of each animal,” she said.

“Kids should know that sometimes there’s also little toys in boxes and they can take those too, or switch them with their own little toys like stuffed bears,” she added.

Szczesny says that they try to either leave the library as they found it or make it better. “You don’t want to use them as a dumping ground for junky or beat up books you don’t want. Likewise, if we see trash or dirt or something like that, we’ll try to clean it up,” he said. 

They try to be good stewards and when they see a box that is broken or damaged they check the Little Free Library map and email the owner to let them know.

Little Free Library at Wilson School.

Setting up your own Little Free Library

If you would like to set up your own Little Free Library, you can buy a finished or unfinished cabinet from Little Free Library for $150-$370 on their website or you can make your own. Registration costs $39.95, and includes a plaque to put on your Little Free Library. Once registered your Little Free Library will appear on the map on their website. 

Rose Buckens of Morris, CT, has set up dozens of Little Free Libraries in her area. Her first piece of advice for people setting up their own free library is to secure it. 

“The first day I went to put up my library I got as far as digging the hole for the post. I left everything in my yard to finish later and someone stole the whole thing – the books, the library box, and the post.” she said.

Undaunted she not only put one up in her own yard, but she has partnered with community organizations throughout Connecticut to put them up at schools, senior centers,  and other community spaces. In fact, she has put up so many that she is an official partner of Little Free Libraries.

Having a Little Free Library at her home has helped her build relationships with her neighbors in her community and meet people from all over the world who visit her library.

Buckens recommends starting out with about 20 books. “It is a good idea to leave room for people to add to it,” she said. Children’s books are a good way to start but the contents of the library will vary depending on who the users are. Some are visited more than others.

Uma agrees that any good Little Free Library should have some children’s books, “Pop-up books are the best for kids. Also, books in a series,” she said. She especially likes Rainbow Magic books. 

Buckens visits thrift stores to replenish her stock and, because she maintains so many libraries, she takes donations of books. Occasionally she will receive something she can’t use, like the 18 boxes of romance novels that someone left on her doorstep. Those she brings to Goodwill. 

It is important to maintain the library boxes to keep the books dry. She recommends a magnetic lock on the door. When especially bad weather is coming, she secures the door with a bungee cord. 

Hanover Hill Little Free Library.

As for decorating your Little Free Library Uma has some suggestions for making it attractive to kids. “The best way to make a box is to paint it full of rainbows, polka dots, sprinkles and ice cream cones on the side. Kitty faces too. If anyone is making a little library, I can come over and paint it for them!”

Here is a list of local Little Free Libraries. Visit the Little Free Library website to see a map of the locations.

  • 144 Blucher St.
  • 249 Cedar St.
  • 607 Chestnut St.
  • City Hall
  • 61 College St.
  • 196 Dewey St.
  • Greenview Estates
  • Hallsville School
  • Hanover Hill
  • 117 Hickory St.
  • 771 Maple St.
  • 557 Mast Rd.-Pinardville
  • 31 Memorial Dr.
  • No. Adams St.
  • 633 River Rd.
  • 22 Salem St.
  • 332 Walnut St.
  • 106 Wellington Rd.
  • Wilson School

About this Author

Kathy Staub

Kathy Staub is a NH State Representative for Hillsborough District 25.