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Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead book cover

By Courtney Runn

You have likely spotted one on a neighborhood walk: a small, wooden house perched at the edge of someone’s yard filled with books and a little sign reading, “Take a Book, Leave a Book.” 

Since the founding of the nonprofit Little Free Library organization in 2009, these mini book havens have sprung up in more than 100 countries and can now be found on all seven continents. 

While simple in concept, these free libraries have long-term impacts on local communities, decreasing book deserts and strengthening neighborhood relationships. Whether you’re looking for fun ways to keep your kids reading over the summer or want to invest in literacy year-round, here are three ways you can use Little Free Libraries to spread the book love in your family and community: 

Build your own Little Free Library. 

To build your own library, check out the many video tutorials and building tips on the nonprofit’s website. Involve older children by making it a family or neighborhood project, and invite younger children to help pick out books when it comes time to stock your new library. 

Reach out to your local school or social organizations like Girl Scout troops to make it a true community effort—and save a few dollars. Once you build yours, register it online to receive an official charter sign and make sure readers can find your library. 

If your neighborhood is already home to a Little Free Library or several, consider partnering with an organization to build one in an underserved community or book desert. 

Tip: For an environment-friendly (and budget-friendly) library, upcycle items in your home. If you browse the online Little Free Library map, you’ll find countless creative alternatives to display books: repurposed microwaves, cabinets, mini-fridges, wagons, bookcases, etc. The possibilities are endless!  

Take your kids on a Little Free Library scavenger hunt. 

Whether you’re looking for a local adventure or a kid-friendly activity on vacation, explore the online database of Little Free Libraries to discover new spots near you. Many library owners share the inspiration behind their library and the genre of books available. 

Get to know your own town better by making a bucket list of the libraries your family wants to visit. This is a great way to find new books without breaking the bank, make reading fun for kids of all ages, and build a literature-rich household. 

When you go visit new libraries, bring a few books along for your kids to leave at each stop. And don’t forget to keep the books you borrow circulating when you’re done with them! 

Tip: Make your library quest extra-fun for little ones by creating a map of the libraries you want to visit together. Then go on a walking or driving expedition to find them.

Support the Read in Color Initiative. 

Read in Color is one of the Little Free Library nonprofit’s latest initiatives to support representation in children’s books. According to data released by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, only 30 percent of children’s books in 2020 centered non-white characters—a significant underrepresentation compared to the actual U.S. population, which is estimated at closer to 40 percent non-white. 

In 2020, Little Free Libraries launched the program in the Twin Cities by building 20 new libraries in underserved neighborhoods, stocked with books featuring characters from underrepresented groups. To support this effort, you can sign the pledge online and receive stickers and bookmarks for your own library. 

If you have a Little Free Library, stock it with books from a wide variety of authors to ensure everyone who stops by your library can see themselves in the stories. You can also drop off books to little libraries in your area to increase representation, as well as looking for libraries dedicated to diversity on the online library map. 

Tip: When stocking your own library or donating to others, shop for children’s books at Bookshop.org to support independent bookstores. If you’re on a tighter budget, you can also find great reads at garage sales or discounted book stores. 

What are your favorite Little Free Library finds? Let us know in the comments! 

Courtney Runn is a writer based in Austin, Texas, who can usually be found at the library or her local coffee shop sipping a chai latte.