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Proof that libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries
March 18, 2012 11:36 AM   Subscribe

Build Your Own Little Free Library. Check out some others. These too. The scoop and the FAQ. "Question #1: Won't People steal the books? No. You can't steal a free book. And if you have a good steward and lots of active users, eventually someone who tries to "steal" books will realize that it's not a good thing to do."
posted by storybored (54 comments total) 54 users marked this as a favorite

 
For "eventually" read "when it's too late".
posted by Paul Slade at 11:49 AM on March 18, 2012


There is at least one of these in my neighborhood, but probably more because my neighborhood is awesome.

They're pretty expensive to buy but don't look very difficult to make - even for a person like me with zero building/woodworking/tools experience. It looks like I may have a fun new summer project!
posted by triggerfinger at 11:51 AM on March 18, 2012


I love this idea.

Problems I have: most of the US this wouldn't be possible. Home Association rules govern 1/3 of the residential homes. I bet few would allow one of these. Books aren't fond of direct sunlight and heat or major humidity. They won't work in apartment complexes or big cities. Etc. Also, we already have free libraries.

I've long said, "I love libraries. I think everyone should own one."
posted by cjorgensen at 11:51 AM on March 18, 2012


Baltimore City has the best program ever called The Book Thing. Every weekend, rain or shine, Christ's birthday or not they are open and giving away hundreds of thousands of books. It makes so much sense I can't believe it isn't in every town in America.
posted by cloeburner at 11:57 AM on March 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


Madison is BLANKETED with these little libraries. I've peeked into more than a few and have found a pretty wide range of books - everything from physics textbooks to children's stories to Dan Brown. Mostly though there are religious books and romance novels with Fabio on the cover.
posted by andythebean at 11:58 AM on March 18, 2012


There are two of these (at least) in my south Minneapolis neighborhood, and I love them... Do a lot of dropping off and picking up of books while walking my dog. I think my dog's learned to hate the little book houses, because they mean she'll have to sit for a few minutes while I browse.
posted by COBRA! at 12:00 PM on March 18, 2012


Why just books?
Where I live we have a free shop which is kind-of like a free library, except not limited to books.
posted by silence at 12:05 PM on March 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Home Association rules govern 1/3 of the residential homes.

Wow, I must have just got lucky, I’ve never noticed anything like this.

My wife was just talking about doing this, but I’m not sure we have the kind of foot traffic around here that would work.
posted by bongo_x at 12:07 PM on March 18, 2012


1/3, cjorgensen? Really? Got a source for that? A lot of residential neighborhoods are older, and they can't make people join HOAs if they already own the home or are buying from someone who doesn't belong. And nothing like all new homes require them. I bought my house (a "zero lot line" house, basically a townhouse with no shared walls, but shared driveways) four years ago, brand new, and there's no HOA here, and no way to make me join them if the other 9 people in the set decide to form one. They can complain, but they can't force me to do anything.

As for "we already have free libraries" -- actually, fewer and fewer places in the US, especially in smaller cities and towns, don't anymore. Libraries are being short-staffed, having their hours drastically reduced, and often being shut down entirely.
posted by MadGastronomer at 12:08 PM on March 18, 2012


My local shop has a couple a shelves of donated books you are free to borrow.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 12:27 PM on March 18, 2012


This is the father of a friend of mine She is. . . very proud of what it has become.
posted by KathrynT at 12:34 PM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Home Association rules govern 1/3 of the residential homes.

The figure I keep finding in my searching is something in the neighborhood of 20% of people living in the US live under HOA jurisdiction. Here is the most detailed examination of that number that I've found so far.
posted by hippybear at 12:38 PM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


These are all over Portland, but a little less classy looking. Here's one I glued a jewel to.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:48 PM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Madison is BLANKETED with these little libraries.

I used to visit Madison a lot in the mid-1990s, and it was blanketed with big used bookstores. I imagine you could stock plenty of mini-libraries just with their discards. And if all those State Street shops have gone the way of so many other used bookstores in college towns, there must be a crapload of interesting books floating around with nowhere to go.

I think they'd actually get a lot more circulation in a small collection than crammed in with ten thousand other old books at a store -- somehow, having fewer choices makes a moderately intriguing book seem more worth checking out.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 12:49 PM on March 18, 2012


My town already has a pretty big free library. We call it "the library".
posted by DU at 12:57 PM on March 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


You can't steal a free book

But you can steal a communal book. Which is what a library book is.

And if you have a good steward and lots of active users, eventually someone who tries to "steal" books will realize that it's not a good thing to do."

Presumably good for them. Which is generally as far as that sort of person ever goes.

Which is not to say I'm down on the concept necessarily, just that his take is a little twee for me. We're mostly adults here, how about a straight forward - "Yes, some people will steal, but others will not, or will help replenish. What you lose on the swings you make up for on the roundabouts."
posted by IndigoJones at 12:59 PM on March 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


This would be so perfect for the park in the center of my neighborhood. I'm 99% certain the HOA would have the howling fantods but I'm going to ask anyway.
posted by Mamapotomus at 1:10 PM on March 18, 2012


I have the perfect neighborhood for this, a well-suited location at my home, several friends and neighbors that are enamored with the idea. A Memphis group was enroute to get building supplies just a few hours after I read this post. Thanks so much for a great idea. Memphis WILL be represented on their map very soon.
posted by raisingsand at 1:11 PM on March 18, 2012


Problems I have: most of the US this wouldn't be possible. Home Association rules govern 1/3 of the residential homes.

I find this completely incredible. I would be surprised if any more than 10% of the US lived under HOA jurisdiction. And I would actually not even put the number that high if I had to guess.
posted by jayder at 1:19 PM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Where I live, baseball bats rule the night.
posted by stbalbach at 2:05 PM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Very neighborly, nice for advertising your tastes, might even get you into trouble with the copyright police in some countries, like Canada, etc., but not exactly "important" like real libraries or library.nu. <shrug>
posted by jeffburdges at 2:26 PM on March 18, 2012


There was a radio story about one in my neck of the woods.
posted by Maaik at 2:33 PM on March 18, 2012


My old apartment complex had a couple of bookshelves full of books in the laundry room. Mostly old textbooks and vc Andrews novels, if I remember correctly.
posted by empath at 2:35 PM on March 18, 2012


I'd heard of these over the last year or so, but had no idea that it was locally generated -- a co-founder is from Mindset-famous Beloit College, and now works in the university system in Madison, so that's the reason for the heavy seeding around here. We even have one in my not-so-literate city.

I think it's important to distinguish this from the "public library", despite being also free. It's not meant to offer selection, obviously, and may not even offer great convenience. It's more about fostering community and recycling books (which many libraries might not take in donation otherwise). Paying it forward and all that.
posted by dhartung at 2:41 PM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


You can also do this where you work, without having to build a little house; all you need is a shelf. If there's an empty office or even an unused closet, there you go. You don't have to be so formal with the stickers, either.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:12 PM on March 18, 2012


Hi everybody -- this is my dad we're talking about.

He was fascinated by the concept of MetaFilter and read through the whole thread. I'm hoping to share his responses to some of these comments soon (e.g., homeowners' associations -- he's been through that and then some).

Suffice it to say that this has been a very interesting experience for all of us. It's still being run primarily off of my parents' porch, but even though it took me a while to warm up to the idea, I am (as KathrynT pointed out) very proud of him. He's an idea guy, so my main issue has been hoping that he could keep it focused enough to make people buy into the concept, instead of diluting it too much with what it could do and be and all that. But I think they've found a happy medium.

(Hi, Dad!)

I guess the point is that sure, lots of people COULD do something like this... but my dad and his friend actually did it.
posted by Madamina at 3:51 PM on March 18, 2012 [20 favorites]


if you did this with e-books then no one could steal them, and several people could check out the same book
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 4:18 PM on March 18, 2012


E-books are even poorer at dealing with rain and sleet than paper books.
posted by infinitywaltz at 4:25 PM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I didn't know this was a "thing" but I've created a few of these unofficially. I dropped a crate of novels off at the expat pub when I left Korea, and apparently the bar owner liked the idea, so encouraged people to borrow what they liked and leave it when they were done. Apartment building laundry rooms are also great spots for these. People start reading while doing the laundry and get absorbed in the book by the time their socks are dry!
posted by peppermind at 4:35 PM on March 18, 2012


@infinitywaltz

good point
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 4:45 PM on March 18, 2012


These little casual "book-trading-spaces" are really cute, and lord knows I've picked up enough free random texts in my time, but I feel bit odd about the blurry semantic designation of them as "libraries", which I acknowledge is a natural playful use of language, but which also seems a bit unsettling in this era when our actual real Public Libraries are being assaulted with budget cuts, enacted by tax-saving populist politicians who view the Public Library System as a useless parasite frill, and who are eagerly waiting for the private sector to nobly step in and freely offer a lonely wooden box of full outdated textbooks and bodice-ripper paperbacks...
posted by ovvl at 5:10 PM on March 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


I love this idea. This is one of those little things that makes me feel good about people.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:50 PM on March 18, 2012


There's one in my neighborhood.
posted by maurice at 6:09 PM on March 18, 2012


In fact, ebooks handle rain quite well once encoded as QR codes or shortened URLs for bitlockers, or even magnet links, shortened magnet links, or QR codes for magnet links.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:12 PM on March 18, 2012


Apartment building laundry rooms are also great spots for these.

They're not too rare in cafés where I live, either— just a shelf of books to leave and take. It helps if the shelf is clearly labeled, though, because it's also not rare for there to be a shelf ful of books that live at the café that they'd rather you not abscond with.

For ebooks (also for malware). (Back before cellular data was so widespread, I'd thought it would be cool to build tiny IrDA, Bluetooth, or WiFi kiosks to download reading material from.)
posted by hattifattener at 6:28 PM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


We got one of these in the neighbourhood, a few blocks from where I live, last summer. It's a fabulous resource. No problem with damage to the books, even here on the Wet Coast. My guess is because of the quick turnover. It's located on a bike route in a traffic-calmed area, and gets huge use. People hang-out and socialize there in nice weather, talking about books, meeting the neighbours, etc. There are chalkboards on the sides where people leave community messages, cartoons, jokes, etc. Kids can draw on it , while their parents look for something interesting. One shelf is for kids books only. I can almost always something worth reading there.

Highly recommended. Here are some pictures I took just now.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 7:18 PM on March 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


In my hometown (where I grew up, not where I live now), which was traditionally a bedroom community from which people train-commuted into Chicago, the commuter rail station had a little two-shelf bookshelf some handyman constructed hung on the wall, and the local library stocked it with the sorts of books they sell on their 25-cent rack (excess bestsellers when the waiting list has died down, trashy romance novels, spy thrillers, random donated things, etc.) and put up a sign that said "Take a Book - Leave a Book - Love, Your Library." And a little card explained the books were free, you could keep them if you wanted, you could donate books you didn't want anymore, you could borrow them for your commute and drop them back, whatever. Every couple of months someone from the library would restock it if necessary, but it often had more books than would fit on the shelves because everyone loved the SHIT out of that thing and I often saw morning commuters come in with five paperbacks brought from home to leave precariously balanced atop it when there was no more room and then borrow a new one for their commute. It's the most perfect little idea ever, having a little free sharing shelf at a commuter rail station where the same people are taking a 30-40 minute train ride five days a week.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:57 PM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


infinitywaltz - "E-books are even poorer at dealing with rain and sleet than paper books"

hattifattener - "For ebooks (also for malware). (Back before cellular data was so widespread, I'd thought it would be cool to build tiny IrDA, Bluetooth, or WiFi kiosks to download reading material from.)"

WiFi hotspot providing access to a public "Library" folder with books in multiple reader formats, free reader and conversion software, and FAQs/How-To's? Maybe publish a number of white-listed sites that can be accessed through that WiFi point pointing to various Gutenberg/free text sites.

Man, bookstores coffee shops and other free WiFi places so very much need to do this.

Question for people who read off of devices; is there any experience that is superior to an iPod Touch 2 with Stanza? It's an "ok" experience, and I'm used to its limitations, but is there better hardware (I used to love Sony Clie's because they had a thumb wheel on the upper-left edge) with better font rendering, and software wise, is there anything better than Stanza? I'm very happy with calibre for converting and curating stuff.
posted by porpoise at 9:28 PM on March 18, 2012


Eyebrows McGee: My local library tried to get something like this set up at the (Chicago suburbs) commuter train station. They said no (even though they've said yes in other towns). IIRC, they think people will start throwing books around and hurt someone.
posted by bentley at 9:31 PM on March 18, 2012


ovvl: "Library" doesn't actually mean "public library". You do know that, right? I mean, that's why the modifier "public" is used. There are private libraries, university libraries, subscription libraries, etc. Calling a little free library a library does no harm to public libraries, and may indeed even stimulate interest in them. And a little free library is not actually the same as shelves in laundry rooms and cafes. For one thing, the idea seems to be that LFLs are curated by the community, not just filled with whatever people happen to leave.
posted by MadGastronomer at 10:13 PM on March 18, 2012


our actual real Public Libraries are being assaulted with budget cuts, enacted by tax-saving populist politicians who view the Public Library System as a useless parasite frill, and who are eagerly waiting for the private sector to nobly step in and freely offer a lonely wooden box of full outdated textbooks and bodice-ripper paperbacks...

Mayor Suggests Shutting Down Hudson Area Library

Hudson is the location of the founding LFL. No, correlation is not causation (this is more about state budget cuts, if you ask me), but this was too ironically coincidental to ignore -- I saw this within minutes of quitting the thread.
posted by dhartung at 11:16 PM on March 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


One of the local train stations I use has a pick-a-book, leave-a-book stand for commuters. Mostly filled with fluff and sleep aids, but there's the occasional piece of good stuff.
posted by IndigoJones at 7:10 AM on March 19, 2012


I'm back, with some comments from my dad. He says:

Thanks for the support! Some of my thoughts about MetaFilter comments:

Problems I have: most of the US this wouldn't be possible. Home Association rules govern 1/3 of the residential homes. I bet few would allow one of these. Books aren't fond of direct sunlight and heat or major humidity. They won't work in apartment complexes or big cities. Etc. Also, we already have free libraries.


The writer assumes that most people live in residential communities (they own their homes), especially developments which have associations. Yes, many people do, but most people don't, and even in places where restrictive covenants are the rule, things like Little Libraries, gardens, art, etc. are possible. In municipalities where zoning and park regulations seem insurmountable, more often than not, businesses and nonprofits, schools, churches, community centers and others step forward.

The more I think about it, the more I believe that such pessimism and nay saying is part of "the problem" with the way we design and build communities these days. Amidst all the sameness and standardization, little things (like "libraries" for instance) can offer an occasional moment of serendipity. They can interrupt the flow of a commute home that always involves hitting the garage door opener before saying hello to somebody on the sidewalk. Sounds sappy to some people, but fun and interesting to me.

For what it's worth, the books in most Little Libraries are exposed to neither direct sunlight nor major humidity. For starters, they don't stay very long in the Libraries. As opposed to books in large libraries, they move in and out pretty quickly.

They won't work in apartment complexes or big cities?
Actually, they work quite well in such places. Many, many retirement communities, condos and apartment complexes had free book exchanges long before Little Free Libraries showed up. But the creation of the "houses" for the books seems to attract more attention and conversation. Being outdoors, they often catch the eye. If they are indoors, they work better than mere shelves in a hallway.

Mostly, though, there are religious books and romance novels with Fabio on the cover.
Actually, that's not the case either. Having observed 40 or 50 Little Libraries over the past year I've noticed that the majority of them have collections that include a remarkably diverse mix of titles and genres. Some are highbrow and full of artsy, intellectual stuff and others are mostly children's books. Yes, some tend toward popular paperbacks, but very few seem to have the abundance of religious tracts that we thought would show up.

When you talk to the stewards of each Library, you learn that they mostly favor a pretty organic balance between freedom of expression and evangelizing; between best sellers, classics and favorites from personal collections vs. rejects or "romance novels with Fabio." Since a growing number of publishers provide new or advance copies of their books, we can spice up the mix, too; often with books signed by the authors.

"a lonely wooden box of outdated textbooks and bodice-ripper paperbacks?"
So far, that doesn't seem to be the way things turned out. If that's the way they end up, these Little Libraries won't be popular for long. But the people who like/support/build/take care of, contribute books to/borrow and take books from/take pleasure in Little Libraries mostly understand that such things thrive only when they are in tune with the interests of their stakeholders.

This is pretty simple stuff, really. It doesn't need to be "important" like big public libraries to be valuable. And in places where both public libraries and physical books are rare, having a nice little place to share books is just that: a nice little place to share books. Not a bad or trivial thing, necessarily.

PareidoliaticBoy: I really like the neighborhood library in the pictures and would love to know where it is. It has a lot of attributes that others might want to include in their Little Libraries.
posted by Madamina at 7:15 AM on March 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


I liked this NYC bookdrop, which repurposes phone booths as book shelters.
posted by zamboni at 7:54 AM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


KathrynT: "This is the father of a friend of mine She is. . . very proud of what it has become."

Is that the polite way of saying "She never shuts up about it"? (I kid, I kid!)
posted by symbioid at 7:55 AM on March 19, 2012


You could even create a poster embedding QR codes that pointed towards bitlocker urls for various books. I'd recommend reuploading tweaked pdfs so that your copies don't get removed by an unrelated DMCA takedown.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:57 AM on March 19, 2012


Is that the polite way of saying "She never shuts up about it"?

It's the polite way of saying, "She was really skeptical at first, but it doesn't seem quite so cockamamie now that it's been going for a while."

At first, my dad was suggesting they'd make great graduation gifts. Knowing my three male cousins, I gave that idea a flat NO.
posted by Madamina at 8:01 AM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


(I should note that I made that comment before I read your replies here, btw)

In all honesty, I love this concept, it's so... elegant.

And I can see why there are so many in Madison, it just *fits* with the culture here. I can think of a couple places where there could be one (in fact, in my old neighborhood right across from my old place would be a wonderful location). My old neighbors were really into taking care of the little community, and I could see them doing something like this. Maybe I'll pass it along, maybe I can work on the project with them :)

Tell your Dad thanks for the wonderful idea and inspiration!
posted by symbioid at 8:19 AM on March 19, 2012


I've always liked these things and they seem to have taken off. I think the stewardship/curation angle is one that people sometimes miss. With stewards, these are libraries. Without them, they are bookshelves out in the open. And it's unclear from a lot of the reporting on these things that this is what is going on.

if you did this with e-books then no one could steal them, and several people could check out the same book

This is, of course, a fraught topic, but there are some interesting proof of concept approaches to this out there including Open Library's relationship with Boston Public Library circulating older ebooks and waiting until someone tells them that they can't and unglue.it which aims to get fully legally distributable ebooks out there via crowdfunding. I am, of course, hopeful that we can free up more and more content in whatever form so that people can access as much of the world's information as possible.
posted by jessamyn at 8:22 AM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


At first, my dad was suggesting they'd make great graduation gifts. Knowing my three male cousins, I gave that idea a flat NO.

Oh, definitely agreed, but hearing about this a little further back into winter would have given me a great Project to do while I waited for spring to come. Now it's been so warm that yard work is already starting, and this may have to wait until next winter!

This seems like an awesome and easy project to do with kids, though, on the scale of building a birdhouse. Hmm, maybe I can still make this work on a rainy day....
posted by wenestvedt at 8:45 AM on March 19, 2012


If you have a bunch of halfway decent books you want to get rid of take them to a place (a street corner, a park, a homeless encampment, an outdoor soup kitchen) where homeless people congregate. You will be amazed at how grateful many of them are. They also like magazines. Homeless people often, unfortunately, get kicked out of public libraries. Even if they don't get kicked out their lack of an address prevents them from being able to check books out.
posted by mareli at 12:58 PM on March 19, 2012


Mareli, I think that may be one of the next steps, either with this program or separately. Madison has a pretty sizable homeless population, due in no small part to the number and variety of services. (Our central library was one of the main hangouts for homeless folks, but it's currently undergoing a major remodel.)

I know I heard Dad talking about something like that a couple weeks ago -- some combination of "wouldn't it be nice to have a book that actually belongs to you?" to some of the things you mentioned about not having an address and not being able to check things out (though I'm not sure what the rules are around here).
posted by Madamina at 1:20 PM on March 19, 2012


Madamina, the precise location is at Lakewood and Charles, in Vancouver. It is on the bump-out that was created when the traffic barrier you can see here was replaced. This means that it's on City land, and I therefore suspect that it is part of our Green Streets initiative.

I will wander by there after work, and try to get more info.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 3:17 PM on March 19, 2012


You have memail, Madamina.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 6:43 PM on March 19, 2012


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