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A more personal view of the profession

Little Free Library connects local and global communities throughout 36 countries

Sara Mudd /

Humble beginnings

When Todd Bol started the Little Free Library in 2009, he built what was essentially an oversized mailbox or birdhouse, in memory of his mother’s life and her love of reading. “The concept was simple: take a book, return a book. It immediately sparked something in everyone who passed by. It seemed to stimulate and fulfill an intrinsic need to connect with each other in an authentic way,” says Todd, Founder and Executive Director of Little Free Library. “From there, the idea just took off.”

Little Free Libraries (LFLs) provide neighbors a way to share their love of reading, develop interests and share their passions across all demographics. “LFLs complement public libraries’ missions by energizing the conversation from within the neighborhoods. Oftentimes, stewards of LFLs post information about upcoming programs hosted by the local library, such as important health information and free screening opportunities.”

The organization estimates that there are between 6,000 and 7,000 LFLs across 36 countries. Ghana alone now has more than 40, and at least 1,650,000 books have been donated and borrowed since January 2010.

Leveraging partnerships to connect local and global communities

With the widespread grassroots movement under way, which Todd attributes to the organization’s inclusive and scalable approach, his focus is turning toward initiatives and partnerships that will have biggest impact, such as:

  • Endow a Library in a Small Town: In the U.S. alone, there are approximately 11,000+ rural communities that don’t currently have public libraries. This program matches sponsors and underwriters with these communities to get books into the hands of their residents.
  • Books for Africa: In Hudson, Wisconsin, Hudson High School students are building 12 LFLs in shop class, then art students are painting them and media classes are filming and documenting the process. LFL identifies sponsors to ship the LFLs and books to Africa. Once they arrive, local Rotary Clubs help deliver and install them. An extension of this program is the Good Global Neighbors program, where the students in the U.S. and Africa become pen pals, start book clubs and share their creative writing−all centered around LFLs.
  • Going to School: This new partnership with Going to School, an organization that provides entrepreneurial-based story books to 1,000 schools in India, will bring LFLs to all of those classrooms.

Connecting little free libraries to libraries

How are libraries, schools and citizens playing a crucial role in this movement? The Minneapolis School District, LFL and local sponsors are facilitating the placement and financial commitment of 100 LFLs throughout North Minneapolis, Minnesota.

“The Minneapolis School brings LFLs to neighborhoods that have often missed the joy of books. In addition to passing on their love of reading to future generations, many people are using LFLs to pay tribute to those who have gone before. Every library I’ve built has a little piece of me and my heritage in it−often decorated with horseshoes from my father’s collection,” says Todd.

As libraries look for ways to connect with communities and readers, the ability for anyone to take ownership of their own small, hyper-local library—and see how it connects to thousands of others worldwide—can be a powerful tool for library advocacy. LFL was just awarded an Innovations in Reading Prize by the National Book Foundation.

About the Author

  • Sara Mudd

    Sara Mudd

    Sara helps librarians share their stories with the cooperative community. She also communicates member-leadership opportunities available through OCLC's Global and Regional Councils.