Last weekend I took a quick trip to the beach with a few friends that live in Raleigh. Both women have kids and were chatting about their local library. I casually mentioned Charlotte’s Little Free Library initiative, and their minds were blown.
It’s like I had just told them that Charlotte was home to an underground gold mine. I realized that sometimes you simply need a trip out of town to realize just how awesome our city really is.
Even if you’re not familiar with the term “Little Free Library,” I can almost guarantee that you’ve seen one around town. You know, the colorful birdhouse-looking boxes filled with books? I distinctly remember the first time I spotted a LFL, on a run around Elizabeth. I thought it was the best thing ever and promptly Instagrammed it, of course. It was one of the first things that made me fall in love with Charlotte and all of its charm.
Curious to know more about the mechanics of the Little Free Library movement, I reached out to Atalie Zimmerman, program manager for Neighborhood Matching Grants.
What is a Little Free Library?
Atalie Zimmerman: In 2009, Tedd Bol of Wisconsin created an old schoolhouse structure in memory of his mother in front of his home, filled it with books and put up a sign that said, “Free Books.”
Little Free Libraries aim to promote literacy and bring communities together. Little Free Libraries have a “take a book, leave a book” mantra and it’s a way to share books with neighbors. Residents fill a structure with books and share them with neighbors walking by who may take a book (or two) and replace it with a book of their own.
Are there any rules or regulations?
AZ: In terms of placement, Little Free Libraries are not permitted on city- or county-owned land or in the right of way. Little Free Libraries must go on private property and be set back at least 11 feet.
Are there any types of literature that are not allowed?
AZ: Because Little Free Libraries are not authorized on city/county owned land, neither of these entities monitor the books. The library steward, typically a community member, will monitor the book supply.
What happens to books that sit in the library for a long time and never get taken?
AZ: Most neighborhoods that have Little Free Libraries never have this problem. In fact, most neighborhoods report that their library is constantly overflowing with new books.
How many Little Free Libraries are there in the Charlotte area?
AZ: While an exact number can’t be provided, as new locations are popping up every day by neighbors and businesses, there are 25 registered with the official Little Free Library Association right now. The city’s Neighborhood Matching Grants program has funded two.
What’s the Neighborhood Matching Grants program?
AZ: The Neighborhood Matching Grants program awards funding of up to $25,000 to eligible neighborhood-based organizations for projects and programs that help improve their quality of life. The program funds projects from landscaping and bike racks to Little Free Libraries and lighting upgrades. Neighborhood Matching Grants is a matching program where organizations match the dollar amount of funding received with cash, in-kind donations or volunteer time, or a combination of all three. The program accepts applications four times a year: February 15, April 15, June 15 and September 15.
What do you do if you’d like to have a Little Free Library in your neighborhood?
AZ: Neighborhoods will either purchase a library kit from the official Little Free Library organization, or will purchase supplies to build your own. I built one for as little as $50 in supplies. The great thing about building one is that neighbors can participate in the building and installation and the children can play a role in its design and painting it.
To find a Little Free Library near you, visit littlefreelibrary.org/ourmap.