Oversized Mailbox? Underfurnished Dollhouse? It’s a Little Free Library!

My travel activity bag is usually packed with a few books that I can read during my journey, then leave behind for others to enjoy. In the library of the Hotel Amalienhof in Weimar, Germany, I deposited my offerings as a thank-you for having a copy of Biedermeier: The Invention of Simplicity, a heavenly, but hefty, tome on the furniture, decorative arts, paintings and clothes of the Biedermeier period. It’s shelved as a special favorite on my bookcases at home, but I gratefully borrowed the hotel’s copy during my stay so that I could brush up on Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s color theory before I saw his color wheel and other “chromatic equipment” in the Goethe-Nationalmuseum.

That same idea of taking a book for as long as you like, returning it, or leaving another in return is the essence of the Little Free Library.Little Free Library

In 2009, Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin built a model of a one-room schoolhouse as a tribute to his mother, a former teacher who loved to read. He put it on a post in his front yard, filled it with books, and posted a “Free Books” sign on it. Rick Brooks, an educator at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, heard about this unique do-it-yourself project and saw its potential. Inspired by the “traveling little libraries” of Lutie Stearns, a librarian who brought books to nearly 1,400 Wisconsin locations between 1895 and 1914, and the book exchanges they spotted in public places, the pair began promoting the “Little Free Library,” a nonprofit effort to promote reading and literacy among children and adults. As of this month, it’s estimated that there are more than 32,000 registered Little Free Libraries in all 50 states and over 70 countries around the world.

A Little Free Library is a wooden box containing books that neighborhood residents can take to read for as long as they like, then either return it or leave another book in its place. Each Little Free Library is a unique work of art, with constantly changing contents.

Little Free Libraries pop up in all sorts of places. To keep students reading during the summer, Little Free Libraries were established in June at four Dublin elementary schools: Wright, Deer Run, Pinney and OldeLittle Free Library Sawmill. Last year, the Delaware County District Library established four Little Free Libraries constructed by the Delaware Area Career Center at the marinas and camp stores of Alum Creek and Delaware State Parks. In 2013, the Worthington Libraries and Worthington Parks & Recreation partnered to create a Little Free Library in the McCord Park playground at 333 E. Wilson Bridge Rd. The library and an adjacent playhouse are modeled after the Griswold Inn and Tavern, a popular Worthington landmark from 1811 until it was razed in 1964.

Most are located on residential streets, perched along main drags or tucked away in subdivisions, like a patriotic Little Free Library flanked by a pair of benches in front of 3209 Brampton Street in Dublin. As I pulled up to check it out, a young reader was depositing a book. “I didn’t read all of it, but I think that’s OK,” he told me.

Little Free LibraryFinding the “Freadom” branch was so successful that I stopped by a few more Little Free Libraries on my route home from work the next day.

Clintonville is the home of the first registered Little Free Library in Ohio. Built by a retired librarian at 216 Oakland Park Avenue, it’s a sweet little cottage painted the same green as the garage, with a cutout of a black-and-white cat perched on top and photos of cats framed on the sides. Pull a book-shaped knob to open a door inscribed with “My Treasures Are Within: Read a book, return a book.”

Little Free Library

Near Brevoort Park, Smaug the Dragon keeps watch over the Hobbit-themed Bag End Branch. Lego figures of Bilbo, Frodo, Gandalf and Gollum look out a window over the door.Little Free Library

A Tudor Revival Little Free Library matches the half-timber and brick home at 46 Fallis Road.Little Free Library

Hiding behind the huge, heart-shaped leaves of thriving elephant’s ear plants at 310 W. Richards Rd., I found a Little Free Library stocked with a Webster’s New World Dictionary; General H. Norman Schwartzkopf’s autobiography, It Doesn’t Take a Hero; The Call of the Wild; and Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonsinger.

Little Free Library

Continue east on Richards Road, just past Colerain, and you’ll spot a miniature covered bridge with doors on both ends. This is Winnie’s Readery, a tribute to a poodle who died in October 2014.Little Free Library

A red two-story schoolhouse-style Little Free Library appropriately sits across the street from Colerain Elementary School. Solar-powered lights lead the way along a gravel path to this carefully landscaped branch, located at 418 E. Weisheimer Rd.

Little Free Library

A mod Little Free Library at nearby 280 Dixon Court was stocked with a pile of books, including one called I’m Bored. More lush landscaping surrounds this location that backs up to Dominion Middle School.Little Free Library

I drive past Selby Park in Colonial Hills every day, but had no idea it had a Little Free Library until the other day. Its official address is 358 Selby Blvd. S., and this little girl knew right where it was.Little Free Library

A miniature version of the Old Rectory at 50 W. New England Ave. in Worthington is stocked with books, as well as information about the Worthington Historical Society, which is headquartered next door.

Little Free Library

Anyone can start a Little Free Library in their community. A visible location with a lot of foot traffic is a good place for a Little Free Library to be legally and safely installed. Each branch should have at least one person who can check on it to make sure it’s stocked and in good shape.

Ready-made Little Free Libraries can be purchased (boxes start at $375) here, or you can build your own using free plans available here.

The first Little Free Libraries were about 20” wide by 15” deep by 18” high. If you choose to build your own, you can vary the dimensions. Builders are encouraged to use recycled and found materials, to employ “green” buildiLittle Free Libraryng techniques, and to make it last by using screws rather than nails, and giving it several coats of stain, paint or sealer. It also should rest on a sturdy post or a secure foundation.

Once a Little Free Library is finished, it’s registered as an official member of the program. A one-time payment of about $40 per Library provides a steward’s packet of support materials, one official charter sign, and a number to display on the Library. Finally, its location, photos and story can be entered on a world map so that others can find it.

Use the map link above to find Little Free Libraries in your neighborhood. If you’d like to support the cause without building a Little Free Library of your own, you can also drop off books at a Little Free Library near you.

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