When Todd Bol built a miniature single-room schoolhouse, placed it in his front lawn and filled it with free books, he did not expect to attract a lot of attention. Honoring his mother, a lifelong school teacher, Bol built the structure (about the size of a large mailbox) and filled it with his own books. He hoped that some passerby would stop to take a look, or even take one home and replace it with a book of their own. This was the simple start of the now global nonprofit Little Free Library. Started in 2009 in Hudson, Wisconsin, the ever-growing movement now stretches across all 50 states and over 32 countries. A lot of love and hard work went into creating this seemingly over-night success.

Rick Brooks, seasoned in creating and managing nonprofit projects, saw the structure and instantly fell in love. Partnering with Bol, the two began to build more of the libraries, placing them in areas high in foot-traffic and hoping to spread the love of reading. As more people began to use the little libraries, Bol and Brooks realized that people wanted to create their own. The miniature libraries started to pop up around their town and in neighboring ones. In response they built an online community, connecting the libraries and their owners around the world.

It doesn’t have to cost a lot to set up a new library. It can be made out of any material and modeled to look like anything. Some people have crafted libraries out of wood from wreckages, others have modeled theirs after London phone booths; the possibilities are endless. Pre-made libraries are also available for sale in many different designs on the Little Free Library website. Registering a library only costs $35, which comes with great perks: creators become official “stewards,” receive an official Little Free Library plaque to mount on their structure and the addresses of all the registered libraries are added to a virtual map.

Anyone desiring to support Little Free Library, who is unable to have their own structure due to lack of location, can help host a library to be sent to those in need. On their website, Bol and Brooks offer a donation page to collect money for making and shipping fully stocked Little Free Libraries to countries and readers who would otherwise lack access to books. This program is a great way to help support literacy both at the community level and in places where people cannot afford to buy books for themselves or their children. Individuals or groups, such as high school and colleges groups, can donate as a team. Hudson High School in Wisconsin made twelve libraries for a partner school in Africa with students helping every step of the way. From the shop class to the art department, the school helped build and paint the structures. Media students ran stories about the effort, inspiring the community as a whole to sponsor the books to fill each library. Their support was felt throughout the process, and the school remained in contact with the African students once the libraries were officially set up.

It doesn’t matter if you are an avid reader or educator—Little Free Libraries have something for everyone. Supporting improvement in literacy for all ages, this nonprofit is making a big name for itself, demonstrating that good things can in fact come in small packages.

Did You Know?

Nancy Humphreys, a writer and librarian, notes that the most important goal of the Little Free Libraries is the encouragement of reading—making the world a better place for authors and readers alike. While the benefits for a reader may be more obvious (free books!), Humphreys notes some advantages that Little Free Libraries can offer authors. In her blog, Author Maps, she suggests that authors put a copy of their published book in one of the Little Free Libraries and observe how quickly it gets taken from the shelves. For those looking for reader feedback, she suggests creating a review copy that contains tear-out postage paid postcards. Whoever picks up the book may be more likely to submit a response if most of the work is already done for them—all they have to do is read the book, write a quick review, and pop it back in the mail. These suggestions may help circulate books around local communities, encouraging discussions and sharing. This word-of-mouth approach, Humphrey notes, is the best way to promote sales.