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


Alex on July 12, 2013


I have to say, a very thoughtful and inspiring reading for me! Thanks for putting forward this perspective!!
I have started depending a lot on Audio books / Digital CDs now more than ever before. I spend more than 2 hours everyday driving and this was the only way for me to complete my books, stories or any other reading material. This came to me after I read:…
Now I have started building my own audio library!

Happy Reading):


Alex, You bring up a great point. So many people are listening to books these days! Whatever the format, it's the story that informs, moves, and inspires us. As you probably know, the Library buys lots of audiobook (and electronic audiobook!) copies whenever new titles are purchased. I hope you take advantage of all those free audio offerings DPL is making available!

And Little Free Libraries don't have to be about printed books only. Some neighbors have started leaving their gently used magazines in our box. I spied some audiobooks in another neighborhood library last week. And we recently had someone post flyers on the our box for an upcoming, local music festival. That seemed appropriate to me - just one more way we can collectively share our interests and passions with our community!

Joel Bader on August 29, 2016


Has anyone thought of putting Little-Free Libraries at such public places as the Denver International Airport, the Denver Coliseum, the Mile High Stadium or at many of the public festivals held in Denver throughout the year? I wasn't sure if those Little Free Libraries would be feasible or if such facilities would backfire. What are your thoughts?


Thanks for your thoughts, Joel. The library took your idea to heart! In 2015, we installed a library on the 16th Street Mall:…

We keep it fresh with titles that are being removed from our circulation and encourage the public to stock it as well. This past year, we partnered with the RiseUp Community School. Their students built several libraries as a school project and sited them on the playgrounds of local elementary schools.…

Luckily, we are in the book business; this kind of partnership makes sense for us. And as you can imagine, any library on public property would need municipal approval; on private property, you would need buy-in from the hosting entity.

Little Free Library shares media stories about library community partnerships:

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