In addition to visiting murals and hiking through parks, there is another way to explore cities that is about to get easier. On Tuesday, nonprofit Little Free Library is launching an app that shows you all the neighborhood book exchanges in your area. And there are more to find than ever, because many people added them to their yards during the pandemic.
“Little Free Library’s mission is not only about expanding book access but also about building community,” says M. Greig Metzger, the organization’s executive director. “During the pandemic, the libraries have been physical manifestations of neighbors’ concern for each other. While person-to-person contact has been limited or impossible, Little Free Libraries became way stations for community, connectivity and caring.”
Whether you use the app or encounter Little Free Libraries spontaneously, you will want to stop and browse. We have collected six examples of unique book exchanges across the country to show you what the program has to offer.
Puzzle Post in Washington, D.C.
A residential corner of D.C.’s Hill East neighborhood is home to this puzzle-lending library. After she passed time during the pandemic solving jigsaw puzzles, retired attorney Suzanne Nyland wanted to share the fun with her community. Neighbors can borrow, lend or swap puzzles. In case a piece goes missing, Nyland makes replacements using a 3D printer.
Starting with one library in September 2021, the “Puzzle Post” continues to grow. Suzanne added a second little library for kids’ puzzles and just added a third. Nyland says she has been surprised by the community support.
“People will stop by to talk. … It becomes a water cooler on the street,” she says.
Little Fiber Library in Jacksonville, Fla.
Lindsay Hamman, a registered dietitian who used to own a yarn shop called “Yarn Cow,” asked her boyfriend to build this Little Free Library with a hide-like paint job. She opened the Little Fiber Library at the end of 2021.
Finding that many neighbors picked up knitting during the pandemic, Hamman keeps the little library filled with yarn. “Almost every day I go out there and there’s something new in there or somebody’s come by and taken something out,” Hamman says.
Across the street from a ballet school and a restaurant, the Little Fiber Library sees a lot of foot traffic.
The Peep Show in Seattle
Concerned about spreading the coronavirus at the beginning of the pandemic, script writer Cristie Kearn removed all books from her Little Free Library. Transforming it into a stage, she debuted the Little Free Peep Show with “Mary Peepins,” re-creating a scene from the book “Mary Poppins” by using marshmallow Peeps.
Fast-forward almost two years, and she still creates weekly scenes from novels using the popular Easter candy; inspirations include C.S. Lewis’s “The Magician’s Nephew” and Stephen King novels for Halloween.
Along the journey, Kearny has attracted a crowd. “I met more neighbors during quarantine than I had in the 13 years I lived in that house,” Kearny says. She even connected with a tourist from Maryland, who found the Peep Show on Instagram and added it to his vacation itinerary.
The Pup Stop on Wakefield in Houston
This women-run Little Free Library stocked with dog treats is conveniently around the corner from several bars and a coffee shop called Slowpokes. Realtor Cheryl McCleary started the exchange in the summer of 2020, bonding with dog-walking neighbors who were stuck at home.
“The last couple of years have been very divisive … we leave all that behind,” McCleary says. “We all love our dogs and kind of bond and meet in the middle over our dogs. It’s a way to perhaps become friends and interact with people that maybe we wouldn’t normally.”
Teaming up with three other women in the neighborhood, a sign asks visitors to leave a donation to an animal rescue in exchange for a dog treat. They even do seasonal fundraisers — a dog costume party for Halloween and a crawfish boil this spring. Every quarter, McCleary and friends raise around $12,000 for animal rescues in Houston.
Poetry Box in San Jose
Artist Amy Hibbs always goes back to poetry, finding it “especially meaningful in times of struggle.” When the pandemic shut down her Northern California city, she wanted to pass on compassion, so she created a Poetry Box where strangers can tape their poems to the glass.
While doing yard work, Hibbs is touched to see parents reading the poems to their children, including some who have contributed their own poetry. A neighbor’s friend sent poems from Florida.
Little Free Art Gallery in Atlanta
After reading a Washington Post article about a little free art gallery in Seattle, Megan Schaeffer knew Atlanta needed one. So Schaeffer, a creative director who has worked in the arts her entire career, started her own.
Kids, professional artists and everyone in between drop off ceramic pieces, vintage collages and drawings. “Leave one, take one” is the motto. Connecting through Instagram, even women from Washington state and San Antonio send art.
Located by a bus stop and near a station for MARTA, Atlanta’s train system, the Little Free Art Gallery is a popular layover.
“It was nice to sit on my stoop 10 feet from someone and feel a connection,” Schaeffer says. She has met more neighbors through the little gallery than she did in her four previous years living in the community. “It’s been a joyful experience,” she says. “I feel connected again.”
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