Little Free Library in front of house

Little Free Libraries Develop a Sense of Community

7/30/15 by Kristen Oshyn

​A Little Free Library is the perfect interactive lawn ornament. It looks like an oversize birdhouse on a post and is placed in a public place. “Take a book, leave a book,” imprinted on the Library, succinctly explains its purpose to any passerby. Anyone can build a Little Free Library or purchase one online.

Knowing this, I jumped at the opportunity to have a Little Free Library near the sidewalk in my front yard. We had recently bought a house in a new neighborhood, and adding a Library felt like a good contribution to our block.

I had the good fortune to receive the Library from the Wilder Foundation. Wilder had been approached by the AARP and Little Free Library, who aimed to see how access to and involvement with these tiny libraries can affect the lives of older adults. Wilder distributed nine Libraries, many of which were painted by participants in its Adult Day Health Arts Enrichment Program.

As I expected, our Little Free Library has been a positive addition with the neighbors, but I had not considered how the library would help build a sense of community.

The Ultimate Icebreaker

Our Library has turned out to be an incredible source of conversation and the ultimate icebreaker for meeting our neighbors. It has prompted comments and conversations across the board. Sometimes these are limited to how happy they are to see a Little Free Library in the neighborhood; other times the conversation expands. I learned that one of our neighbors is a teacher. Another one returned recently from living in California. Yet another one happens to own the store around the corner from our house.

One memorable commentator was an adolescent on his bike who paused as my husband was installing the Library; he asked if it was going to be “one of those libraries” and when my husband said yes, he whooped in excitement. I received a similar, though less rambunctious, response from an older gentleman who posed the same question to me when we crossed paths while walking in the neighborhood.

When we installed the Library, we had visions of going to a thrift store to stock it. We were amazed to discover that before we had the chance to put a single book into it, our Library had been filled by others in the neighborhood. Monitoring the Library inventory has become a favorite pastime of mine: what kinds of books come in and out; which ones stay the longest and go the most quickly. The children’s books fly out of the library at an incredible pace. The romances linger for weeks and weeks. There are novels and cookbooks; books on diabetes and overcoming alcoholism; classics and romances.

Potential to Build Community

In the months since, people continue to comment on it. Just a couple weeks ago, an elderly woman stopped while walking past our house to tell me what a nice addition the Library is to the neighborhood; and another neighbor I hadn’t met introduced himself and told me that he had some books he needed to bring over.

I have always been a proponent of Little Free Libraries; as a steward of one, I have developed an even greater appreciation for the potential they hold: to start conversations between neighbors across ages and backgrounds, to share information and knowledge, and to be a space of shared responsibility.

To find a Little Free Library near you, visit this interactive map.

Kristen Oshyn received her Master of Social Work degree from the University of Chicago, where she concentrated on work with older adults, particularly those diagnosed with memory loss. She has worked at the Wilder Foundation as a Caregiver Social Worker and as an Early Stage Specialist at the Alzheimer’s Association MN-SD chapter. She is currently enjoying the opportunity to be home with her young daughter.