Perhaps you’ve seen one — a small case in a neighbor’s front yard filled with books. A sign attached encourages passers-by to “take a book, return a book.”
Curious? These Little Free Libraries combine social good with signature Austin weirdness to encourage reading in the community.
I first discovered these unique lending libraries while walking in my East Austin neighborhood. One morning, I noticed a clever little case fashioned from a tree stump in a neighbor’s front yard. Sometime later, I realized my regular Friday morning group run through West Austin passed another little library, this one built into a fence. Once aware of their existence, I started spotting little libraries all over town.
DIY Little Free Libraries
The Nyfeler/Morris household in central Austin is in the process of constructing their own Little Free Library. Suzan Nyfeler, a youth services librarian with the City of Austin (and, in the spirit of full disclosure, my sister-in-law), became aware of these home lending libraries years earlier. The concept originated in 2009 in Wisconsin, when Little Free Library founders Todd Bol and Rick Brooks were inspired by history — Andrew Carnegie’s dreams for American literacy, traveling libraries in the late 1800s and informal book sharing in coffee shops and public spaces — to promote social good.
Creating their own home lending library was an item Nyfeler had thrown out as a possible gift suggestion to the men in her household, husband Steve Morris and sons Roy and Jake. “I love being a librarian,” she explained. “I like offering people the chance to read broadly, and having the opportunity to come home and be a librarian in my off time was very exciting.”
Morris and sons secretly researched designs, consulting the Little Free Library website for downloadable plans, viewing prefabricated models sold by the organization, and scrolling through images posted on Pinterest and other social media sites. They formulated a basic plan and headed to Morris’ sculpture studio, the Walburg Arthaus, for the actual construction.
The guys presented the basic primed model to Nyfeler, along with a promise to finish the library according to her desires. Decisions include paint colors — some libraries are very subdued and others quite fanciful (the original Little Free Library was constructed to look like a miniature red schoolhouse).
Nyfeler wants to mirror their house paint, known as a “doppelgänger” library, and she’d like to add a tin roof to protect against the elements. Door construction is currently in progress, but she hasn’t decided on hardware. Because the family opted to register with Little Free Library’s global database, there is an official charter sign with location number to be attached. Wish list item: solar panels to power a small porch or interior light.
Where to Install Your Little Free Library?
One of the most important considerations is where in the front yard to put the finished library. “I want it where I can see it from inside the house,” said Nyfeler. Part of her enjoyment will be observing those who take and leave books. Because she’ll include literature and materials for children, height (“I want little ones to be able to reach in”) and how securely positioned the heavy box is are two important factors to be determined. Many libraries, such as the one in the Mueller subdivision, are mounted on posts set in concrete so there’s no fear of them toppling over onto patrons.
The City of Austin has no issue with the placement of these libraries in yards, “as long as they do not have commercial advertising/corporate logos on them (which would violate off-premise sign regulations) and do not encroach into or obstruct the public right-of-way,” explained Sylvia Arzola, speaking on behalf of the Development Services and Planning and Zoning Departments.
Books Build Communities
Once built and placed, every library needs materials. But don’t feel that they have to be limited to books. Nyfeler plans to include bookmarks, magazines and various swag she’s received at conferences and meetings. “It’ll be a complete mishmash,” she said. “But being a librarian, I’m geared toward ensuring the collection won’t just reflect my interests.” While the original library will be seeded with the family’s books and bargains gleaned from garage sales, contents will change as more and more neighbors make their deposits and withdrawals.
That community interaction is something Nyfeler is particularly looking forward to. “Our neighborhood is changing so fast. New families come in; there are lots of younger people with kids, folks walking dogs — so much life,” she explained. “The Little Free Library will be another way to meet and interact with our neighbors. It will bring us so much joy.”
Activities with Austin’s Little Free Libraries
- Find a nearby neighborhood library and make two trips (one to borrow and the second to leave a book)
- Explore to see how many of Austin’s Little Free Libraries you can discover
- Keep a journal listing the books you’ve read and the books you’ve shared
- Design your own dream library — and then build it!
- Put International Anti-Illiteracy Day (September 8th) on the calendar and celebrate by reading, visiting libraries, or sharing materials
@leahruns100 wants to know:
Will you share a photo of an Austin @LtlFreeLibrary and the book you took/left?
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