Little Free Libraries have inspired similar take-what-you-like concepts of Little Free Pantries and Little Free Art Galleries. Now, they’re inspiring something else: the anti-racist little library.

Kristen Berthiaume set up a tiny library outside her house in Homewood, Ala., and stocked it with anti-racist books shortly after a police officer murdered George Floyd in Minneapolis last year.

Berthiaume, a clinical psychologist, wanted to help educate people in her majority White suburb of Birmingham on the dangers of racism and why it is hurtful not only to the people being oppressed but to the entire society.

“You have to be proactively doing something to fight injustice,” she said.

The library idea came to her when her husband, Brian, picked up a discarded piece of furniture in a trash pile. It was about 3 feet tall, perfect for a Free Little Library. She and her kids — Emma, 14, Owen, 11, and Lily, 8 — decided to paint it and convert the drawers to shelves, then stock them with books that have racial justice themes.

Her Anti-Racist Little Library holds about 20 or so books at a time for children, teenagers and adults.

Since it opened in July 2020, more than 300 books have been picked up, including “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption” by Bryan Stevenson and “How to Be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi. Many have been read and brought back.

Berthiaume, 43, bought the first books both new and used. Then, as word spread, a few hundred donated books came in, along with about $1,000 in cash gifts she used to buy more books.

Several months after the library was a success and talk of the neighborhood, somebody stole all the books during the night in August of 2020. Undeterred, people brought more books to the library, as well as donations to quickly replenish the supply. So many books were donated, in fact, that when all the books were stolen again one night in December, she had enough to restock the shelves.

“There are a lot more people out there doing good things than doing bad things like stealing books,” Berthiaume said. “There’s so much support for this project.”

Berthiaume came up with the idea to make an Anti-Racist Little Library independently, she said, but plenty of other people around the country have had the same idea. The Read in Color program has brought diversity-themed books to Little Free Libraries around the country starting last year, including in cities such as Tulsa and in the District of Columbia.

In the San Francisco Bay area, a group of friends, Jenny Roy and Meg Honey and Sarah Foster, started a nonprofit called Rise Up Against Racism, which brings Little Free Antiracist Libraries to neighborhoods in the region. The organization — which launched on June 18, 2020, the eve of Juneteenth — has a team of volunteer artists who build and paint the libraries, and then the organization supplies the books.

So far, Rise Up Against Racism has provided 10 little libraries in the San Francisco area, both at private residences and community buildings like schools. They are hoping to expand the nonprofit organization and provide more libraries elsewhere.

“I think people are realizing how important it is to fill their community with books that offer diverse perspectives, especially from groups that have traditionally been marginalized,” said Roy, 41, who lives in Walnut Creek, Calif.

Honey, 42, placed the organization’s first little library in front of her home, and has since watched a stream of people stop by to pick up or drop off books. She once saw a group of teenagers with disabilities visit the library, and she said some visitors leave encouraging notes on postcards.

“It’s been an amazing set of surprises,” said Honey, who also lives in Walnut Creek. “I get to watch and see visitors visiting the library, many of whom are children.”

Although the organization started with a focus on anti-racism, it has now expanded to include books about other marginalized groups, like the LGBTQ community.

“Our goal is really to provide an opportunity for both kids and adults to explore and learn about racism as well as be able to expand their thinking and use it as a conversation starter, especially with children,” Roy said. “And books are such a great way to do that. They are mirrors for kids to see themselves in their books.”

Phil Blumberg, 35, is a woodworker who owns a cabinet shop, and as a volunteer has helped create seven of the libraries. He has donated labor and materials for the little libraries, which have brightly colored doors. He primes the wood on the cabinets, and then leaves it to the hosts to paint to their liking.

“I think it’s a great way to be able to do something tangible, and it’s something that people get really excited about and is easy to do,” Blumberg said. “I like the idea that kids from different races … have an opportunity to be exposed to kids who don’t look like them … and exposed to different viewpoints.”

Monica Wang, who works at the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research, which started in July 2020, said she has heard about some mini lawn libraries in her area that offer these kinds of books.

“I’m really invigorated and excited that this is happening on a small scale across the country,” said Wang, associate professor at the University’s School of Public Health. “That to me is particularly important because it’s been more difficult for people to go to libraries during the pandemic.”

In Washington State, TeyAnjulee Leon of Tacoma and Eric Wilson-Edge opened an Anti-Racist Free Little Library in September on the campus of the University of Washington at Tacoma, where Leon works as a student retention specialist.

Leon and Wilson-Edge got a grant of about $8,500 from the university to create the library, which sits at the center of the campus. They stock it with books they buy at local independent bookstores, and people generally keep the books rather than borrow and return them.

Eventually, the library will run out of money to buy new books, but Leon is hoping for donations to keep it going.

“I’m really pleased and proud of how well this has been received,” said Leon, 29, a self-described nerd who loves to read. “I have nothing but high hopes for it. It’s been a pleasure to be a part of it.”

Leon was intrigued to hear that many people around the country came up with the same concept.

“I feel like that’s how good ideas happen,” she said.

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