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  • Writer's pictureJenny Carless

Good Reading Karma: Little Neighborhood Libraries

Updated: Mar 14, 2019

I’ve noticed a fun trend in my town over the past months: Little neighborhood libraries are sprouting up everywhere.

I don’t mean small branch libraries; I’m talking really small libraries—free ones—that have been erected on neighborhood streets. Typically, they look something like an oversized mailbox, with a clear window/door to protect the books from the elements.

This is a global phenomenon, too. According to Little Free Library, more than 15,000 little libraries existed in 62 countries as of January 2014. The group estimates that one little free library goes through at least 25 books a month.

Recently, several of these great community resources have blossomed on the West Side and Upper West Side of Santa Cruz (California). They come in various shapes and sizes: Some are quite simple, others have been beautifully decorated. But they’ve all been lovingly constructed, and they all hold the treasure of books.

The idea is “bring a book, take a book.” If you have a spare book, drop it off at the nearest little neighborhood library. If you take one, try to replace it to keep the good reading karma going.

I love this concept for many reasons. For example, it’s a simple way to build a sense of community, it’s a great example of reusing something rather than trashing it and it’s a great way to encourage people to read outside their usual genres. (It’s free; why not give it a try?)

All the photos here are of the libraries in my ‘hood—except for the last: a not-quite-so-little free library I came across in the village of Thurlestone (south Devon) in September. What a great use for an old telephone box!

A friend who sometimes walks my dogs has come back from two recent outings with a book in her hand and a big smile on her face. Her first find was Henry David Thorough; her second, Ken Follett. Not bad!

In my exploration of these little libraries the other day, I found everything from Anne Rice, Barbara Kingsolver and Larry McMurtrey fiction to children’s literature and books on home design and aikido.

My town is fortunate to have a great library system, also—so while these little libraries are really nice to have, they’re not absolutely essential. The next step, it seems to me, is to get small, free neighborhood libraries in communities around the world that don’t have the luxury of public libraries.

Now, that would be some good reading karma…

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