Jump to content

Little Free Library

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Little Free Library Ltd.
Founded2009 (2009)
FounderTodd Bol
Type501(c)(3) nonprofit organization[1]
PurposeTo be a catalyst for building community, inspiring readers, and expanding book access for all through a global network of volunteer-led Little Free Libraries. [3]
HeadquartersSt. Paul, Minnesota
Greig Metzger[4]
Revenue (2021)
Expenses (2021)$3,489,818[5]
Employees (2022)
Volunteers (2022)

Little Free Library is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization[1] that promotes neighborhood book exchanges, usually in the form of a public bookcase. More than 150,000 public book exchanges are registered with the organization and branded as Little Free Libraries. Through Little Free Libraries, present in 115 countries, millions of books are exchanged each year, with the aim of increasing access to books for readers of all ages and backgrounds.[6][7] The Little Free Library nonprofit organization is based in St. Paul, Minnesota, United States.[8]


Little Free Library in a Tokyo Metro station

The first Little Free Library was built in 2009 by the late Todd Bol in Hudson, Wisconsin.[9] Bol mounted a wooden container, designed to look like a one-room schoolhouse, on a post on his lawn and filled it with books as a tribute to his late mother, a book lover and school teacher who had recently died.[10] Bol shared his idea with his partner, Rick Brooks, and together they built and installed more of the bookhouses in different areas of the Midwestern United States.[10] After a while, the idea started to spread.[10][11]

Little Free Library officially incorporated as a nonprofit organization on May 16, 2012,[12] and the Internal Revenue Service recognized Little Free Library as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization later that year.[13][14]

Bol's original goal was the creation of 2,510 Little Libraries. This would surpass the number of libraries founded by Andrew Carnegie, in a program where library buildings were constructed and endowed in cities across the United States.[15] That goal was met in 2012.[15]

The movement also was adopted internationally. By November 2016, there were 50,000 registered Little Free Libraries in 85 countries worldwide.[10][16] Margret Aldrich wrote The Little Free Library Book to chronicle the movement.[17]

As of August 2019 the number of Little Free Libraries has increased to more than 90,000 such bookhouses in 91 countries around the world.[18]

Bol died from pancreatic cancer in October 2018.[19] M. Greig Metzger II joined the organization as executive director in July 2019.[20]

In July 2022, LFL moved its headquarters from Hudson, Wisconsin to St. Paul, Minnesota.[21]

Legacy and honors[edit]

The Little Free Library nonprofit has been honored by the National Book Foundation, the Library of Congress, Library Journal, and others for its work promoting literacy and a love of reading.[22]

The Little Free Library organization has used funds raised to donate book exchanges through their Impact Library Program, champion diverse books through their Read in Color Program,[23] and create a reading program called the Action Book Club, which combines reading with community service.[24][25]


A reader browsing a Little Free Library

Like other public book exchanges, a passerby can take a book to read or leave one for someone else to find. The organization relies on volunteer "stewards" to construct, install, and maintain book exchange boxes. For a book exchange box to be registered and legally use the Little Free Library brand name, stewards must purchase a finished book exchange, a kit or, for a DIY project, a charter sign,[26] which contains the "Little Free Library" text and official charter number.[27][28]

Registered Little Free Libraries can appear on the Little Free Library World Map,[29] which lists locations with GPS coordinates and other information.[30] A Little Free Library mobile application[31] was introduced in 2022. It is free to download. Little Free Libraries are located around the world; the majority are located in the United States.

Little Free Libraries of all shapes and sizes exist, from small, brightly painted wooden houses to a larger library based on Doctor Who's TARDIS.[30][32][33]

Zoning regulations[edit]

Little Free Libraries may be designed and decorated to fit their surroundings or to stand out.

Little Free Libraries are typically welcomed by communities, however, if zoning problems arise, local governments often work with residents to find solutions.

In late 2012, the village of Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, denied permission to potential Little Free Library projects and required that an existing Little Free Library be removed because of a village ordinance that prohibited structures in front yards. Village trustees also worried about inappropriate material being placed in the boxes.[34] However, in August 2013, the village approved a new ordinance that specifically allowed Little Free Library boxes to be put up on private property.[35]

On June 17, 2015 Portland, Oregon Mayor Charlie Hales declared it "Little Community Kiosk day" in response to community confusion over right-of-way rules. On that day, he and the Portland City Council amended city code to allow for community kiosks such as Little Free Libraries in neighborhoods.[36][37]

In June 2014, city officials in Leawood, Kansas shut down a Little Free Library under a city ordinance prohibiting detached structures.[38] The family of Spencer Collins, the nine-year-old boy who built the structure, created a Facebook page to support the amendment of Leawood's city code.[39] Another resident of the city who erected a Little Free Library was threatened with a $25 fine.[40] In July, the city council unanimously approved a temporary moratorium to permit Little Free Libraries on private property.[41]

On January 29, 2015, the Metropolitan Planning Commission in Shreveport, Louisiana shut down a Little Free Library. Zoning administrator Alan Clarke said that city ordinances permitted libraries only in commercial zones and that the one that was shut down had “bothered someone.”[42] The following month, the city council temporarily legalized book exchange boxes until the zoning ordinances could be amended to permanently allow them.[43]

In North America, Little Free Libraries, and, implicitly, other public bookcases, have been criticized for being placed mostly in neighborhoods of wealthier, well-educated people, where there are already high-quality traditional public libraries nearby. The commentator encourages groups to assist neighborhoods where such facilities are lacking.[44]

In the August/September 2022 issue of Reason magazine, reporter Christian Britschgi wrote on Little Free Library's impact as part of a movement against cumbersome and overreaching zoning regulations in the United States:

The fact that a single three-feet-by-three-feet box of books can be illegal in two different ways illustrates the uphill battle homeowners can face when trying to set up their own libraries. The reams of rules governing what can go where in America's single-family neighborhoods set endless traps for unwary librarians... It would be easier to name the types of human activity that zoning laws don't restrict than to list all those they regulate. Even the most harmless activities can run afoul of these codes. But unlike most things tripped up by zoning regulations, Little Free Libraries have an impressive record of besting the rules imposed on them. As the country slowly rethinks the wisdom of laws restricting density and commercial activity in staid residential neighborhoods, Little Free Libraries may be leading the way.[45]

Little Free Pantries and Blessing Boxes[edit]

A Little Free Food Pantry in Fairfax County, Virginia, seen in June 2023

As of June 2019, the United States had more than 600 Little Free Pantries, and more can be found in Canada, The Netherlands and Australia. The Little Pantries function similarly to the libraries, as places where anyone can bring food and anyone can take food. Personal hygiene items such as soap and toothbrushes are also distributed. The first Little Free Pantry opened May 12, 2016 in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Another 100 were installed within months, including pantries in New Zealand. Items not allowed, according to informal rules, include razors, alcohol, and breakable glass containers.[46]

Blessing Boxes, which are similar to the Little Free Pantries, are often sponsored by churches. They provide a place for sharing food and other useful goods, such as clothing. People are encouraged to "pay it forward" and donate whatever they can, such as a can of beans. "The idea is that anyone walking by who may be struggling can use the goods to make ends meet and get through the day."[47]

Indigenous Library Program[edit]

In January 2023, the Little Free Library announced its Indigenous Library Program, which provides book-sharing boxes for installation on tribal lands, as well as in other Indigenous communities in the U.S. and Canada. Set to launch in spring 2023, LFL boxes will come with two starter sets of books; one set will include 25 books written and/or illustrated by BIPOC authors and artists, and the other set will feature 25 books with content centering Indigenous people and communities.[21][48]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Little Free Library Ltd." Exempt Organizations Select Check. Internal Revenue Service. Retrieved May 10, 2017.
  2. ^ "Form 990: Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax". Little Free Library Ltd. Guidestar. December 31, 2015.
  3. ^ "Little Free Library". Retrieved 27 February 2017.
  4. ^ "People of Little Free Library". Little Free Library. Retrieved July 5, 2022.
  5. ^ a b c d "Form 990: Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax". Little Free Library Ltd. Guidestar. December 31, 2016.
  6. ^ Fuentes, Nicole (August 2, 2018). "Little Free Library". Long Island Advance.
  7. ^ Shachar, Noah (August 16, 2018). "Little Free Libraries Thrive in Santa Barbara". Santa Barbara Independent.
  8. ^ "About Little Free Library". Little Free Library. Retrieved February 27, 2017.
  9. ^ Ross, Jenna (October 18, 2018). "After terminal cancer diagnosis, Little Free Library founder feels like 'the most successful person I know'". Star Tribune. Retrieved October 21, 2018.
  10. ^ a b c d Kelly, Mary Louise (October 19, 2018). "Little Free Library Creator Todd Bol Dies". All Things Considered. National Public Radio.
  11. ^ "Little Free Library: What People Are Saying". Little Free Library. Retrieved February 28, 2017.
  12. ^ "Little Free Library, Ltd." Corporate Records. Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions. Retrieved May 11, 2017.
  13. ^ "Little Free Library Ltd". Guidestar. Retrieved May 11, 2017.
  14. ^ "History of Little Free Library Archived 2022-04-06 at the Wayback Machine". Little Free Library. Retrieved February 27, 2017.
  15. ^ a b LaVecchia, Olivia (August 14, 2012). "Little Free Library breaks Carnegie's record with 2,510+ libraries (and growing)". City Pages (Minneapolis, Minnesota).
  16. ^ Aldrich, Margaret. "Big Little Milestone: There Are Now 50,000 Little Free Libraries Worldwide". Book Riot. November 7, 2016. Retrieved February 27, 2017.
  17. ^ Aldrich, Margaret. The Little Free Library Book. Coffee House Press. ISBN 978-1566894074. April 14, 2015.
  18. ^ Ross, Jenna (October 18, 2018). "Todd Bol, creator of the Little Free Library, dies at 62". Star Tribune.
  19. ^ "Todd Bol, Creator of Little Free Library Movement, Dies at 62". The New York Times. October 23, 2018.
  20. ^ Aldrich, Margret (July 17, 2019). "Little Free Library Announces New Executive Director" (PDF). Little Free Library.
  21. ^ a b Claire Kirch (January 20, 2023). "Little Free Library Launches Indigenous Library Program". Publishers Weekly.
  22. ^ "Little Free Library Milestones Archived 2022-07-22 at the Wayback Machine", Little Free Library, Retrieved February 27, 2017.
  23. ^ Read in Color Program
  24. ^ "About the Impact Fund". Little Free Library.
  25. ^ "Action Book Club". Little Free Library.
  26. ^ "Registration Process". Little Free Library.
  27. ^ Karnowski, Steve. "Wis. Man's Little Free Library Copied Worldwide". Associated Press. Yahoo! News. December 25, 2012.
  28. ^ Ellis, Rahema May 1, 2012). "Using Books to Build Community". The Daily Nightly. MSNBC. Archived from the original on May 1, 2012.
  29. ^ Little Free Library World Map
  30. ^ a b Durst, Kristen (7 March 2012). "'Little Free Libraries' Hope For Lending Revolution". All Things Considered. National Public Radio. Retrieved 22 May 2012.
  31. ^ Little Free Library mobile application
  32. ^ Turner, Brodie. "Little Free Library: How a Loving Tribute Became a Worldwide Sensation". Good News Shared. Retrieved February 22, 2015.
  33. ^ Ford, Dick. "The Mize Tardis". Mize City Library (Mize, Mississippi). Instagram. January 4, 2016.
  34. ^ Stingl, Jim (10 November 2012). "Village slaps endnote on Little Libraries". Wisconsin Journal Sentinel. Madison, Wisc. Archived from the original on 2013-03-08. Retrieved November 12, 2012.
  35. ^ "News & Notes: Aug. 7". Whitefish Bay Now. 7 August 2013. Retrieved 9 September 2013.
  36. ^ "Community News". The Southeast Examiner of Portland Oregon. Retrieved 2021-01-22.
  37. ^ "Efiles - 613-2015 Proclaim June 17, 2015 to be Small Community Kiosk Day (D/78094)". efiles.portlandoregon.gov. Retrieved 2021-01-22.
  38. ^ Waxman, Olivia B. (20 June 2014). "City Forces 9-Year-Old Boy to Move 'Little Free Library' From Front Yard". Time.
  39. ^ "Spencer's Little Free Library". Facebook. 19 June 2014.
  40. ^ McCallister, Laura; Fowler, Brix (18 June 2014). "City to fine owners of Little Free Libraries". KFVS-TV. Archived from the original on 25 May 2016. Retrieved 23 June 2014.
  41. ^ Baumann, Caroline (7 July 2014). "'Little Free Libraries' legal in Leawood thanks to 9-year-old Spencer Collins". Kansas City Star (updated 8 July 2014).
  42. ^ Burris, Alexandria (30 January 2015). "Other Little Free Libraries could be ordered to cease". Shreveport Times.
  43. ^ Burris, Alexandria (10 February 2015). "Little Free Libraries made legal – for now". Shreveport Times.
  44. ^ CApps, Kriston (May 3, 2017). "Against Little Free Libraries". Bloomberg. CityLab. Retrieved 2020-03-15.
  45. ^ Britschgi, Christian (23 July 2022). "Little Libraries, Free at Last?". reason.com. Reason. Retrieved 27 July 2022.
  46. ^ Natanson, Hannah (17 June 2019). "Little Free Pantries are like Little Free Libraries — but with food". The Washington Post. Retrieved 25 November 2019.
  47. ^ Rascon, Jacob (February 8, 2018). "How simple 'blessing boxes' are helping thousands in need". NBC News. Retrieved 2019-12-28.
  48. ^ "Little Free Library to Launch an Indigenous Library Program". Book Riot. January 25, 2023.

External links[edit]