Little Free Libraries: Start one in your community

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A Little Free Library is a public bookcase. Anyone can leave a book and anyone can take a book. It’s a lending program based on the honor system — and it means more books are available to your students any time of day or night.

This is the perfect time of year to build and fill your Library, so students can access new reading material throughout the summer. Here are some Little Free Tips from fellow teachers about starting a Little Free Library in your community.

Why should I start a Little Free Library?

You’ve probably seen a Little Free Library on a walk through your neighborhood, on your local news, or on another school campus. For many schools, this is a sustainable, renewable option for getting high-quality books directly to students. Here’s why teachers love them:

“It’s become difficult to get physical copies of books into students’ hands. In the community in which I teach, the nearest bookstore is 20 miles away. In order to supply students within our district with quality, diverse books, we (local teachers) built a Little Free Library and did our best to keep it stocked with relevant, engaging books for kids of all ages. For most students, this Little Free Library is their only source of obtaining books. As the summer has progressed, we’ve witnessed students of all ages grabbing books and have received numerous letters from parents thanking us for keeping their children supplied with reading material.” Ms. Harris, Grades 3-5, Connecticut

“We have students that speak two or more languages, special education students, preschool students, and many different cultures. Our students and their families love using the Free Little Library! The Free Little Library is a wonderful way to encourage reading, sharing books, passing books onto a friend, and most importantly a school-wide love of literacy.Mrs. Johns, Grades PreK-2, Colorado

What should I know before I start building?

Building and maintaining a Little Free Library is an incredible service to your students and your community. With these Libraries popping up all over the country, teachers have learned a few tricks to make them as useful as possible:

“Some suggestions: put it in a place where it is visible and easily accessible (near the main entrance or even better, the playground). Also we have found that most people “trade up” for harder books. So we tend to get lots of picture books and have to keep replenishing with chapter books. I’d recommend having a stash of new chapter books so you can weed out old or bad condition picture books frequently and have a consistent supply of harder books.

Kids books of all levels go very fast. Kid magazines are also a big hit. Word of advice, books rarely come back, especially the kid’s books. Never put anything in there that you aren’t okay with never seeing again. I love the fact that the books find a new home to be loved in. Or get shared in another library around town. The best is watching families pick new books and the kids walking away with their new treasures.”

“Students are most often grabbing graphic novels and fantasy like Harry Potter. The kids love it and it made it to the directory for our city so the neighborhood kids come and grab books after school too!”

“We built 2 in our special areas classes a few years ago. We then put them by the transitional housing and homeless shelter we have in our area; we have several students who reside there. We filled them with books donated by a book charity. The kids books go quick, then get exchanged.”

“Thanks to Donors Choose, we have been able to fund 10 Little Free Libraries at students’ bus stops. I usually filled the Little Free Library with books about black characters and minorities because 98% of our students were Black. Our students loved grabbing/swapping a book before getting on their buses.

I’m in. Where do I start?

Building the Little Free Library will be your first step. This is a great opportunity to involve your community, neighborhood organizations, or other students. Here’s how some of your fellow teachers got their libraries up and running:

“Our high school woodshop students and teacher designed and made a few for our little town.”

“We put them around our entire district. A high school class built them and a few of the HS clubs maintain them for volunteer service hours. We do periodic book drives if the bins are running low.”

“My daughter’s Girl Scout troop created a library for the school that I teach at. They repurposed something from Facebook Marketplace and then gathered donated books to keep it stocked. We opted to store it inside so we wouldn’t have to worry about the weather or it being vandalized.”

“Our local bookstore gets advanced copies and gives them to us. People like new releases so I try to buy them off my scholastic classroom order every once and a while if there’s a deal. It’s nice because the library is somewhere where I go often.”

“Go to the local newspaper office and see if they have any old newspaper vending boxes. They are perfect and fairly easy to repaint and decorate.”

But what about the books?

Here’s where DonorsChoose comes in. Post a request for an initial set of books to fill your Little Free Library. Your library patrons will then borrow, exchange, and replace. Check out these projects for filling Little Free Libraries with sets of books that may inspire your shopping list:

Diverse Books for Diverse Readers, Mrs. Nix, Grades 9-12, New York

  • Toni Morrison Box Set: The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon, Beloved
  • Little Dreamers: Visionary Women Around the World
  • Brown Boy Brown Boy What Can You Be?
  • Diversity Ninja: An Anti-racist, Diverse Children’s Book About Racism and Prejudice, and Practicing Inclusion, Diversity, and Equality (Ninja Life Hacks)
  • Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History

“Our community does not always have access to books because our library is a long walk from where we live. Many of our neighbors do not have cars. This will be an opportunity for them to read books with characters who look like them.”

STEM Books 4 Little Free Library Part II, Mrs. Tracy, Grades 9-12, Delaware

  • The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps
  • The Girl Who Thought in Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin
  • For the Right to Learn: Malala Yousafzai’s Story
  • Dinosaur Lady: The Daring Discoveries of Mary Anning, the First Paleontologist
  • Nothing Stopped Sophie: The Story of Unshakable Mathematician Sophie Germain

“As part of a service-learning project on campus, our students will assemble our newly acquired Little Free Library. Next, students will add picture books featuring notable female STEM scientists. This project will… help us build community, inspire readers, and expand book access.”

Little Free Diverse Library in Need of More Books, Ms. Harris, Grades 3-5, Connecticut

  • All the Way to the Top: How One Girl’s Fight for Americans with Disabilities Changed Everything
  • We’re Different, We’re the Same (Sesame Street)
  • Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad
  • Born Curious: 20 Girls Who Grew Up to Be Awesome Scientists
  • The Hate U Give

“Our Little Free Library not only provides books for our students…but it also contains purposefully selected diverse books featuring characters with different cultural experiences.”

Take a Book, Share a Book, Mrs. Martinez, Grades PreK-2, California

  • The Jelly Donut Difference: Sharing Kindness with the World
  • The Best Part of Me: Children Talk About their Bodies in Pictures and Words
  • Magic Tree House Boxed Set
  • Lailah’s Lunchbox: A Ramadan Story
  • Stephen Curry: The Children’s Book: The Boy Who Never Gave Up

“I have selected a few book titles that my students have enjoyed reading to put in the Little Free Library as a start. Then, every student will be able to use the free library to take a free book, and it will also give them the opportunity to recycle their old books by leaving them for others to read.”

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DonorsChoose Pro-Tip: Exclusively through DonorsChoose, Scholastic Classroom Magazines & Book Clubs offers “Classroom Library Must-Have” packs of grade-level appropriate books, including themed sets such as STEAM learning and Newbery Award Winners. (This project is a great example.) You can also check out our other book vendors, including AKJ Education and MahoganyBooks!

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Whenever you’re ready to fill your Little Free Library, post a project for a colorful, captivating, diverse set of books for your readers.

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