Little Free Libraries bring books to neighborhoods near you

Linda Greensfelder reads a book title from her Little Free Library in Northwest D.C. (WTOP/Alicia Lozano)

WASHINGTON – For those who think the future of reading is exclusively electronic, consider this: Private citizens are erecting makeshift libraries outside their homes.

Participants in the Little Free Library program exchange books with neighbors, discover writers they have never read and create a gathering place for their communities.

“Immediately people started leaving all these long notes about how wonderful it was,” says Ursula Oaks, whose Silver Spring, Md., free library is more than one year old. “It was really quite surprising to us how people took to it so quickly.”

The idea for Little Free Library started in Wisconsin in 2009 when Todd Bol and Rick Brooks met through a workshop Brooks taught on local economy. Bol had just sold his business and was looking for a new project. Brooks specialized in youth and community development at the University of Wisconsin Madison and was passionate about neighborhood projects.

On a whim, Bol made a small wooden box on a pole and put it in his front yard. It looked like an old-style schoolhouse and was filled with free books. Dedicated to his late mother who loved to read, the first Little Free Library was an instant hit.

“The Little Free Library is like a gift to your neighbors,” says Linda Greensfelder, who started her free library in D.C.’s Cleveland Park over the summer.

Four years later, Bol’s experiment has turned into a full-blown nonprofit business with an estimated 10,000 libraries worldwide in 65 countries. The concept is simple: “Take a book, leave a book.”

As explained on the website, “you can’t steal a free book.” Readers can flip through the pages, take books home permanently, bring them back after they are finished or introduce new books to share. The goal is simply to encourage reading — censorship is not allowed.

Library “owners” can build their own or order one online. Pre-built libraries are constructed from Amish barn wood, exterior signboards and recycled materials. They range from $60 for the sign to $630 for a more elaborate model. For those building their own libraries, the only recommended requirements are that they can withstand different kinds of weather.

Locally, the libraries can be found in D.C., Maryland and Virginia. Click through the gallery to visit some in your area. You can find more here.

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