Suitably, the Little Free Library project started small. One man, Todd Boll, gave out a handful of little handcrafted wooden buildings, each about the size of a microwave, to his friends in 2009. Each one had a hand-painted sign advertising FREE BOOKS and that’s exactly what they were filled with. Inspired by traveling librarians and philanthropists around the world, he hoped to see his project spread, and it has. Today, there are nearly 25,000 Little Free Libraries around the world, and those are only the ones Boll knows of.
While he made the first houses by hand, Boll enthusiastically encourages anyone to build their own. They don’t have to be fancy. A shelf in a coffee shop is enough. Anywhere that books can be safely left and the general public can freely reach. People have built their own out of retired appliances, kitchen cabinets, old dollhouses, or wine barrels.
As a class project, beginning a Little Free Library could be a fantastic lesson in community building. Like the 2,509 libaries built on the donations of Andrew Carnegie, every one is an investment in local literacy. A class could work together under the supervision of anyone with basic carpentry skills to build one little building or several.
Older students would benefit from doing the research and outreach to secure places to mount them, and could take turns as stewards of the contents. The Little Free Library website has good suggestions for how to find a home for your library. For a class, out front of the school would be the natural first choice, but nearby parks and community spaces would be just as good. And having built the library, students will naturally be interested in seeing what new books appear from nowhere as people trade book for book.
The very first Little Free Library was a red schoolhouse, to commemorate Boll’s mother, a teacher and reading advocate. The pre-made models available on the site range from unpainted plain kits to fantastic creations of inlay and artistry. Students and classes can take inspiration for their own from those, from the gallery of home-made ones also on the site, or from absolutely anywhere. In one project, you’re given literacy, art, and community service.