How to start a little library

A few months ago, a neighbour, my kdis and I started a little free library for our immediate neighbour hood (well, anyone that walks by!).

I have since had a lot of interest in it from friends and friends of friends thinking about starting up their own little library. So thought I would write a quick How To Start a Little Library guide for you!

how to start a free library
First shared in June 2019

Background to the free library movement

free library

Oh yes, it is a movement!! Complete with hashtags on instagram!

A few years a go Todd Boll created the first Little Free Library! It was a small house, big enough for 20 books. Since then it has become a worldwide movement. With little free libraries of all shapes and sizes across the world and in different countries. People have converted old phone boxes, put up book shelves or place little houses in their front gardens, to share their love of reading and books!

Location for your little free library

The first thing you need to do, before you do anything is decide on where you are going to put the free library and who is going to look after it. It needs to be safe and you need to have permission to place the library – so your own property is probably best bet. Anywhere else, and you need to involve the council and ask for permission. School or church grounds are a great place too, as it has a wide community that passes by.

In our case the little free library sits at the edge of our property – on the garden wall in fact – which means people can access the library without actually entering my property, whilst still not being a public space.

Your library must not obscure the path of passers by.

How to get a little library

Which ever method of procuring a free library you go for.. make sure it is WELL WATERPROOFED. That really is the key to keeping your library secure and going. You can also give it an annual maintenance make over. But the wind and the rain are your biggest threat!

1. Buy a free library

You can actually but libaries from the little free library organisation. They are gorgeous, well made and sturdy. And come with a plinth so you can have it free standing and at exactly the right height.

2 Make a free library

In our case, we made one. Now I am not that DIY handy (just art and crafty), so emailed my local neighbours and asked if anyone was willing to HELP ME make one. Instead of help.. one of the neighbours offered to make it all! Lucky us. Another friend, who just started a free library, had her 14yrs old son make one in design and technology lessons at school. How amazing is that!

3. Convert a free library

You can also convert “something”. I have seen things like doll’s houses converted into libraries. But if you browse instagram.. oh my you will so many lovely, gorgeous designs. But essentially all you need a box with a door – ideally with a sloping roof, to help keep the rain out! My favourite I have seen is a tradis in a wall for mini books. SO CUTE!

mini free libary

How to stock a free library

Next up you will be wondering how to stock a free library and WHAT to stock!! Some people like to have themed free libraries (e.g. cookbooks only), but I suspect that that is in areas where there already are a LOT of free libraries. In my area, I know of a pub that stocks free books.. and it is quite far away. So I think “everything is fine”. As I have kids… and I read a lot myself.. we had a natural selection of: grown up books, chapter books (7-11yrs age range) as well as some “left over” picture books. We have ordered our libary in that way too.. so each age group can browse their relevant section.

Ideas for restocking…

Help from Neighbours & Friends to restock your free library

run a free library

When we launched our library I let all my neighbours know via email (we have an email list for our street) and a whats app group (with about 30-40 people in the slighty wider community).

We even had a little “grand opening”, which was a fun way to get together and have a chat!

I also let my friends know via facebook and received a lot of donations that way too.

I did decide AGAINST a wider community post (e.g. I am in a postcode group on facebook that has 1000s of followers), simply because the library IS outside my house.. and I felt a little uncomfortable sharing postal information with a large audience. Though of course, anyone is welcomed to use it.

Charity shops, church fairs and school fairs to help restock

We recently restocked the picture books with the help from our school fair. Someone had left a donation for the books in the library and I used that money directly to buy new (second hand) books. The school then gave me another 15 or so on top for free!! Love how things do go round and love that the money donated went to school.

Engage and remind people

This is simple.. just regularly engage with people and remind them that the library is there! Tell the postperson, delivery druck driver and builder from across the road. Remind your friends and family that you are still happy to take books (keep a small stock indoors in need be).

Share photos of the library in places that the immediate community will see – e.g. your private facebook page, a school newsletter, instagram etc.

You can even register your library with the little free library organisation – get your own library number and be added to their world map! So fun.

Little Free Library Stewards

Personally, the kids and I LOVE looking after the library. We check on it every few days. Tidy up the books. Arrange them in rainbows to celebrate pride. We bought some solar powered fairy lights to brighten it at night and in the dark winter months.

We regularly make Bookmarks to give away in the free library too – with Pip Squeak creating lots of colourful drawings and designs for them. So fun!

We like to order the books into picture books, elementary, middle school and adult sections (the Young Adults at the moment, we rehome directly my contacting friends etc with kids in the right age group. Graphic Novels for Kids are great too and often a fantastic way to get reluctant readers started.

I follow the #LittleFreeLibrary and #FreeLibrary hashtags on Instagram for ideas, community and for fun.

free bookmarks

3 months in? And we are so happy we got the library!

I hope this inspires you to think about installing a Little Free Library in your area. If you, do, please do get in touch and share your photos! Would love to see what you get up!!!!

Feeling inspired? Check out all our Handmade Bookmark DIYs here: