by David Goldstein 

In response to my article last month about used book stores, donations to libraries, online options for book selling and book recycling through curbside carts (EYE ON THE ENVIRONMENT | Options improve for reusing and recycling books, VCReporter, April 1, 2021 ), three readers mentioned “little libraries.” Typically made of wood and placed on a stand in a residential front yard, little libraries are boxes labeled with signs, offering passers-by an opportunity to borrow, take or leave a book for reuse. These oases of neighborly friendliness not only save resources by keeping books in circulation, they also spread a culture of sharing and trust.

Pinterest.com features a variety of clever designs for book-sharing boxes, many extending the theme of book reuse by using discarded materials in their construction. Among the cleverest designs are book boxes made from a hollowed-out tree trunk, a glass door refrigerator and a refurbished public telephone booth.

Pinterest titles the pages with these boxes “little book box” and “community book box ideas” rather than using the term “little libraries” because the distinction is important. The term “Little Free Library” is specific to the nonprofit organization founded by Todd H. Bol, who is regarded as a sort of Johnny Appleseed of book sharing. His Wisconsin-based nonprofit organization with global reach is affiliated with the American Library Association and received the highest Guidestar ratings for nonprofit fiscal management from Candid, a respected auditing company. Last year, Little Free Libraries won an award from the World Literacy Council for inspiring readers, building community and expanding book access.

On its website, LittleFreeLibrary.org, Little Free Libraries sells book sheds “made in America by Amish craftsmen.” These book holders are offered for nearly $400, and the purchase includes a charter, designating the purchaser as an official “steward” of the organization. Posts, elevating the book boxes to eye level, cost an additional $80 to $170. Aspiring stewards are invited to instead build their own personalized book shed, but to be part of the organization, they must then purchase a registration separately for prices ranging from $40 for a standard registration tag with the “take a book, share a book” motto, to $80 for a custom engraved sign. 

Advantages of joining the organization as a steward, rather than simply offering books on your own, include the option to add your site to the Little Library world map, which people use to find and visit library sites. Little Free Library Stewards also connect to each other through a private Facebook group, share a Steward’s Guide of tips and receive e-newsletters with deals for book purchases. Stewards in low-income neighborhoods receive deeply discounted books through a program in partnership with publishers. 

Books at some sites on the Little Free Library registry are picked up quickly. Vicki Younker, from the North Ventura Avenue neighborhood, told me via Nextdoor.com, “At a free library on Santa Clara Street, books disappear within in 24 hours.” Sandi Buley, of the Loma Vista/ Foothill  neighborhood in Ventura wrote, “I have noticed that one particular little library that I frequent, on Hyland above Ventura High School, seems to have a pretty quick turnover of great books, and when I come back within a week or so, the book I’ve left has always been taken.” 

Younker wrote, “I have shared 2 to 3 dozen [books] in the last year” and Buley says she brings one or two books with her to drop off every time she visits a library, concluding, “I would guess that I’ve given about 30 books to various Little Libraries over the last year.” 

Plugging various Ventura County zip codes into the LittleFreeLibrary.org map page to find registered sites, I found several pockets of concentration. There are five registered Little Libraries in Lynn Ranch near Thousand Oaks, 18 from Mira Monte to east Ojai, six in Moorpark, 11 within a mile of the Pacific View Mall, three in the Pierpont neighborhood of Ventura and four in the neighborhood around the Simi Hills Golf Course in Simi Valley.

Find more Little Free Libraries at littlefreelibrary.secure.force.com/mapPage.

David Goldstein is an environmental analyst with Ventura County Public Works and can be reached at 805-658-4312 or david.goldstein@ventura.org