Little Free Libraries: Neighbors Creating Richer Communities

This spring, my family installed a Little Free Library in front of our home. Have you heard about these libraries? Founded in 2009, the Little Free Library movement seeks to:

  • promote literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide
  • build a sense of community as people share skills, creativity and wisdom across generations.

Owners can create their own library box or purchase one from Little Free Library and register on the organization's website. Library locations are then geolocated on a Google Map. To date, there are over 5,000 Little Free Libraries in the world, far surpassing the organization's goal of creating more libraries than philanthropist Andrew Carnegie built  (2,509) over one hundred years ago. 

While we steward this library, my family likes to think it belongs to the community. And the response from our neighbors has been heartwarming. Initially, we stocked the library with some of our old books. Now people borrow books and leave copies of titles they think might appeal to others. I've been touched by the ephemera tucked inside pages -- photographs of polar bears from someone's trip to the Arctic left in a copy of Arctic Dreams: Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape. Another donation of One Hundred Years of Solitude contained an old love letter from a boyfriend, filled with tips on how to best enjoy this non-linear story.

Through our library's guest book, neighbors communicate their love and gratitude for the library. And we've begun defining "neighbor" in a larger way. Visitors to the city stumble upon our library, and tell us they want to take the concept back to their home. One day, a San Diego visitor left us a note saying he was on a Little Free Library bike tour and we were one of five libraries in the Denver area he was visiting that day!

These experiences have me thinking about the ways in which we seek to share commonality, community, and connection with those around us. Looking around the city, you can find examples everywhere.

Bonnie Brae neighbors have created mosaic alley art to surprise and delight passersby. Greater Park Hill Community, Inc. sponsors an annual alley art contest. There are more than 125 community gardens around the city sponsored by the Denver Urban Gardens network where individuals or families can reserve, care for, and harvest from their own plot. in Boulder has inventoried and created an online map of edible species found in city forests around the world, connecting urban foragers to yummy treats.

Are you eager to make authentic connections with your neighbors? Perhaps you have an idea that will spark the next grassroots social movement. The Library has a rich collection of books on the historical context of community building and ideas on creating stronger connections in your own neighborhood.

Better Together: Restoring the American Community by Robert D. Putnam and Lewis M Feldstein

Creating Room to Read: A Story of Hope in the Battle for Global Literacy by John Wood

Food Not Lawns: How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden and Your Neighborhood into a Community by H.C. Flores

The Good City and the Good Life by Daniel Kemmis

Rooted in the Land: Essays on Community and Place Edited by William Vitek and Wes Jackson

Independent for Life: Homes and Neighborhoods for an Aging America Edited by Henry Cisneros, Margaret Dyer-Chamberlain, and Jane Hickie

Just and Lasting Change: When Communities Own Their Futures by Daniel Taylor-Ide and Carl E. Taylor

The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods by John McKnight

In the City: Random Acts of Awareness by Colette Brooks

From the Garden Club: Rural Women Writing Community by Charlotte Hogg

Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier by Edward L. Glaeser

Edens Lost & Found: How Ordinary Citizens are Restoring Our Great American Cities by Harry Wiland and Dale Bell with Joseph D'Agnese

For Children:

Elmo's World: People in Your Neighborhood  on DVD

Be My Neighbor by Maya Ajmera and John D. Ivanko, with words of wisdom by Fred Rogers

What is a Community? by Rebecca Rissman

Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman


Written by Robin on June 18, 2013


Gigi P on June 19, 2013


This is such a great initiative, Robin! Thanks for being a part of it and drawing awareness to it with this excellent blog!


Thanks, Gigi. Our family is having a great time being a part of this movement.

Lisa Filipczak on June 19, 2013


I have visited your Little Free Library and been inspired by the sense of community it inspires. Thank you for sharing this with Denverites and visitors to our great city.


Thanks for your support of the library, Lisa! And you're right; Denver is a fabulous city. Neighbors like you make it so!


Nicole, My kids have been doing some filming of our library. I'm make sure they have a submission for the 2nd annual contest. Thanks for your work on behalf of Little Free Library!

Leigh Ann on June 21, 2013


Wow...what an inspiring blog, Robin! And such a cool way to connect libraries (of all sorts!), in our communities & neighborhoods. Love it :-)


Thanks, Leigh Ann. I like your idea of libraries of all sorts. Although we're only 2 blocks away from the Library's Eugene Field branch, I like to think the libraries complement one another. People love reading and it's great to support it in many ways.

Anonymous on July 3, 2013




Thanks for your perspective. I agree that libraries should support literacy. Hopefully, connecting neighbors to books in this fashion supports that end!

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