Little Free Library movement begins to blossom in Richmond

on March 24, 2015

The concept is simple: a handful of books in a wooden box, mounted in a public space. The books are free. Peruse the selection. Take a book if you’d like. Leave a book in its place if you can. Enjoy.

Called the Little Free Library, these informal neighborhood lending libraries have popped up in front of schools, homes, parks, bike paths and cafes in all 50 states and more than 70 countries since a man named Todd Bol installed the first one in Hudson, Wisconsin, in 2009. North Richmond’s first — and so far, only — Little Free Library was established last summer in front of a community garden lot at 1643 Fred Jackson Way. Along with the library in North Richmond, Richmond is now home to at least three other Little Free Libraries. Cristal Banagan, who installed the Little Free Library at Fred Jackson Way, has big plans to keep them growing.

“This movement is important for Richmond because it promotes so many positive things that Richmond is already on the path towards, like community and literacy development and neighborhood beautification, that are going to turn around the negative images that people have of this city,” said Banagan, an educator and founder of Learning Out Loud Educational Community.

Banagan’s goal is to add at least four more in Richmond. In November, Banagan and fellow educator Patricia Gangwer received a $4,000 Neighborhood Public Art (NPA) Mini-Grant from the Richmond Arts & Culture Commission to build and install more Little Free Libraries in Richmond, starting with one in Parchester Park. Banagan’s husband, Audi, builds the libraries in his front yard and will help to install them around town.

Little Free Library founder Todd Bol’s original lending library was a tribute to his mother, a former schoolteacher who loved to read. Bol’s library, which he put on a post in his front yard, was built to resemble a red one-room schoolhouse and had a sign hanging off of it that said: “FREE BOOKS.” Bol’s friends and neighbors loved it so much that Bol built more and gave them away.

The possibilities of the concept expanded when Bol teamed up with Rick Brooks, a community development educator, to spread the literary love outside the bounds of his Hudson neighborhood. Together, they set out an ambitious goal for themselves: to build at least 2,510 Little Free Libraries, to match the number of public libraries that steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie supported in his lifetime.

As word spread, Little Free Library took on a life of its own. Volunteers helped to publicize them. Charter numbers for each new library were established to keep track. The enterprise hired an Amish carpenter to keep up with demand. The goal of 2,510 Little Free Libraries was reached in August 2012, a full year and a half before the founders’ target date. By January of this year, there were at least 25,000 Little Free Libraries across the world.

“It’s a great community-builder,” said Kate Sibley, who serves on the Richmond Public Art Advisory Committee. Sibley first learned of Banagan and Gangwer’s Little Free Library efforts through the NPA grant, and immediately volunteered to be the steward for a prototype library. Sibley is now the proud caretaker of a Little Free Library in front of her house at 166 Murdock Street, near Richmond’s Civic Center Plaza.

Sibley is well aware of the potential powers of something as simple as a lending library to transform a neighborhood. “This Little Free Library is the first part of my dream to make this whole intersection a sort of park area,” Sibley said. “I would love to see a roundabout in the intersection, and this library is sort of the beginning of that dream.”

Little Free Libraries

1643 Fred Jackson Way. (Photo by Bonnie Chan)

Little Free Libraries

5900 Columbia Avenue. (Photo by Bonnie Chan)

Little Free Libraries

435 Tremont Avenue. (Photo by Bonnie Chan)

Little Free Libraries

166 Murdock Street. (Photo by Bonnie Chan)

7 Comments

  1. Donald on March 25, 2015 at 12:58 pm

    This is a great grassroots community building initiative. Having said that, why do taxpayers have to get involved to the tune of $4,000, esp when the city is facing a looming deficit? How many Little Free Libraries will we get for $4,000? And are they really public art?



  2. LFL Richmond Annex on March 26, 2015 at 2:20 pm

    We set up our LFL in the RA in 2013, and are delighted to see them spreading throughout the city. We did not use any public funds of any kind to build ours, but have no problem with the idea of a 4K grant to build more. Here in the Annex, we are lucky in that the book exchange and El Cerrito Library are within walking distance (though even so we seem to have a number of patrons where we are in fact the only book source they can get to); But Richmond as a whole is underserved. I look forward to the day when Richmond has as many as El Cerrito / Berkeley/ Albany…



  3. Liza on March 30, 2015 at 5:48 am

    I would like 1 in my front yard. I live in Atchison Village. I may need board approval, but would work on getting that. Please let me know who to contact about working to get a Little Library



    • H A Bok on March 30, 2015 at 11:28 am

      Hi, Liza, if you get board approval, contact me at habok@earthlink.net and I’ll be happy to help you get one. You will need someone who can help you install a post for it to sit on, because I’m not able to do that. I will be away from the end of April till the end of May, but otherwise am here all the time. Abigail



  4. H A Bok on March 30, 2015 at 11:26 am

    Thanks for the story about the LFLs! It was great to open up the article and see my own LFL in the first photo. Glad to see a lot more are popping up in the city!



  5. Donna on April 1, 2015 at 12:25 pm

    I am excited about LFL’s in Richmond. Is there a nonprofit fund for folks to donate to for this? Also, is there a location to drop off a box of books? I’m a Richmond resident and artist and would enjoy painting one of the LFL’s boxes — and I’m certain other artists would as well. Just a few ideas… Great video and article. Thank you!



  6. ritchie on April 4, 2015 at 8:06 am

    This is a great way to get books to the community, I wish I had thought of it. The children here need more access and this will help.



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