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How to Start a Little Free Library

You’ve seen them. The cute, tinier than tiny houses staked at the curb in front of homes, churches, libraries, stores and, in some cities, even zoos. Growing at a faster rate than even HGTV’s “Tiny House Nation” spews out reruns, the Little Free Library is a novel (get it?) way to make reading fun, easy and FREE for more adults and children in all kinds of neighborhoods.

You see, each little house is stuffed with a variety of hardback and paperback books, donated by readers from around the neighborhood. At a recent visit to a nearby Little Free Library, book titles ranged from “Cosmic Enigmas” to “Baby Fever” to “Air Dance Iguanas.” Visitors are invited to take a book and return it, or donate a new one.


Todd Bol designed and constructed the first little free library with free books in Hudson, WI, in memory of his mother, a devoted teacher and avid reader.



So using a Little Free Library is easy, but how about starting one? The website, www.littlefreelibrary.org, will help and inspire you. The organization began nine years ago when Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin, built a memorial tribute to his mother, a teacher who loved to read. His structure was a model of a charming one-room schoolhouse, which he filled with books, and put on a post in his front yard. The neighborhood response was so enthusiastic that he started building and giving away more little houses, each with a sign that read FREE BOOKS.

When Todd joined forces with Rick Brooks, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor, the concept began to grow into a movement. By 2010, the mission of the little houses had emerged: to exchange good books and bring people together.  People started calling them “Little Free Libraries.” The goal became to build 2,510 Little Free Libraries – as many libraries as philanthropist Andrew Carnegie supported at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. In May 2012, Little Free Library was officially established as a Wisconsin nonprofit corporation and three months later the initial goal was met.

Growing ever since, by this May the total number of Little Free Libraries in the world reached 40,000! About 30 of those are in Kansas City, Missouri, plus several more on the Kansas side. But with Little Free Library’s goal of 100,000 by 2017, there’s plenty of room for more. Building one is an ideal way to recognize a person or group that has been significant in spreading the joys of reading, learning and literacy.


This is the closest Little Free Library to the Literacy KC office. It is located at 3775 Washington Street, KC, MO, and is in need of book donations!

The following tips are highlights of the process. For detailed instructions, be sure to visit www.littlefreelibrary.org where you can also sign up for their Insider’s Newsletter.

  1. Identify a location and a steward – someone who promotes and takes care of the library. The location should be approved by your city. Two years ago, a few Kansas suburban towns, including Leawood and Fairway, took issue with the new structures, but have since added or modified ordinances allowing a Little Free Library to be built according to criteria. (See below about criteria in Fairway, KS.)
  2. Get a library. You can build your own or find someone to build it for you. The Little Free Library website offers resources for both. Local carpenters, artists, hardware stores, scout troops, and schools are often enthusiastic about doing such a project.
  3. Register your library. This allows you to legally use the name Little Free Library. If you purchase the library through the online catalog, it will automatically be registered. Registration also provides several other attractive features including access to the private Facebook group to network with thousands of fellow stewards.
  4. Build support. Find people who love to read and want to strengthen their community. Connect with schools, librarians and neighborhood associations. A local PR firm might donate time to promote your library. You can also start a Facebook page or Instagram account specifically for the library if you are willing to update it regularly. All of these efforts will help you keep well stocked with books.
  5. Add your library to the world map. Once you have installed your library, be sure to hold a grand opening ceremony and invite all of friends and neighbors! When you add the library to the website’s world map, anyone can easily find your library and you will have increased the total number worldwide and helped spread the joy of reading.

Free Reading in Kansas

While Little Free Libraries have flourished throughout Kansas City, MO, just a handful exists on the “Free Stater” side.  In 2014, a nine-year-old Leawood, KS boy’s Little Free Library was ordered by the city to be removed from his front yard. After hearing the boy speak, the City Council amended its ordinance restricting detached structures. About the same time, Fairway, KS, added the following new criteria allowing Little Free Libraries to be built in private yards:

  • Must be permanently fixed in ground on a buried post
  • Must not be placed in the public setback and must be 10-12 feet back from curb
  • Cannot be more than 5 feet in height or more than 3 cubic feet in volume
  • Must not obscure visibility or block traffic
  • Needs to be maintained at all times or will be removed

Have you started a little free library in your neighborhood? Send a picture of it to us at Literacy KC! Email kderohanian@literacykc.org to get your library featured on our social media!


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