Exploring Books

Take a Book, Share a Book

By Jason Frye
Photography courtesy of Crystal Liepa and Shutterstock

Now in its 10th year, the Little Free Libraries movement has spread to 85 countries and every U.S state. A new book makes it easier than ever to create your own free library.

There’s a walk I take near my home, and on this walk I pass by three Little Free Libraries (LFL). You’ve probably seen them in your hometown or in a place you’ve visited: overgrown birdhouses chocked full of books, often with a plaque that reads “LittleFreeLibrary.org / Take a Book Share a Book.”
That’s the whole concept, “take a book, share a book,” spread a little literacy, share some knowledge, pass your favorite stories on to someone else. It’s simple and it’s brilliant and at a time when we’re so consumed with our screens – the television, our computers, our phones – it’s desperately needed. But how do these structures get there? Who stocks them with books? Can I have a Little Free Library in my yard? These questions – along with designs, plans, and installation instructions – get an answer in the new book, Little Free Libraries & Tiny Sheds: 12 Miniature Structures You Can Build by Phillip Schmidt and Little Free Library.
The Little Free Library movement started in 2009 when Todd Bol built the first, stocked it with books and stepped back to see what happened. He built the inaugural LFL in memory of his mother, an avid reader and lifelong educator, and when he saw neighbors stop by to take a book or leave a book, he knew he was onto something. That’s when he made a mistake and decided to sell LFL kits.
It didn’t work. Or rather, it worked, but dismally. After six months he’d sold three or four and was ready to walk away. That’s when he heard a National Public Radio story about Martin Luther King Jr.’s response to the question, “What would you do if you were going to die tomorrow?” The answer: plant a seed because a seed can grow, change, and produce a better future. Bol knew the LFL idea was a brilliant seed, he just needed to help it grow. He decided to give away the LFLs, to spread them far and wide, and they began to spring up across the U.S. like windblown seeds.
Today, a decade after Bol erected the first LFL, they’re in every state and 85 countries, and they number more than 75,000.

With the publication of Little Free Libraries & Tiny Sheds, Bol’s vision of expanding the LFL movement has been realized and soon there will be even more of these book-sharing stations at home and abroad.
In Little Free Libraries & Tiny Sheds, you’ll find a dozen plans with diagrams, cut lists, and step-by-step instructions for putting your library together; tips on selecting where to put your LFL; advice on common maintenance and repairs; and the many uses for your LFL.
As someone who’s handy (I built cabinets and furniture for years), I look at books like this with a skeptical eye. The instructions are often vague, the photo illustrations incomplete, the techniques too advanced for novice woodworkers or too simple to challenge hobbyist builders. To my surprise, Little Free Libraries & Tiny Sheds delivered thorough instructions, clear illustrations, even exploded diagrams (showing a three-dimensional representation of the LFL design and how it’s assembled). Building your LFL is even easier thanks to the cut list and thorough list of tools and materials required to complete each design.
There are a dozen plans in the book, ordered from least-to-most-complex. It’s easy to find the right match for your skill level and workshop, and allowing you to strengthen your own woodworking skills if you were to work your way through the book and build all 12.
When it comes to skill level, the book is unintimidating and strikes a tone that’s familiar but authoritative (like a good middle school shop teacher), drawing readers in and giving them the confidence needed to take on a Little Free Library project. To this end, chapter two covers building basics, detailing the best materials, screws and nails, window and roof components, and even finishing techniques for your project. Included here are writeups on how to use tools like jigsaws, circular saws, and other tools novice builders may not be familiar – or comfortable – with. Each plan is well-illustrated, with bright color photos demonstrating different techniques and stages of the build. Again, Little Free Libraries & Tiny Sheds strikes the right balance of having enough photos of the building process without overwhelming the reader.
The same holds true for the finishing stages of the project as you set your LFL on a post or mount it to a wall. Here, directions are again clear, easy to follow, well-illustrated and thorough. And at the very end they provide instructions for one of the most important parts: registering your LFL and getting your official LFL plaque.
All told, it’s a book that will give woodworkers another project or two to tuck up their sleeve, and it gives those with a love for reading a way to share their passion, after a day or two in the woodshop, that is.

Read More in DeSoto Magazine online.