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5 Tips for Being an Awesome Little Free Library Patron

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Swapna Krishna

Staff Writer

Swapna is the Comics Editor at Book Riot. She's a Space Columnist for Paste Magazine and writes for Syfy Wire—Fangrrls,, Bustle, and other sites. She co-hosts a podcast called Desi Geek Girls. You can find her incessant ramblings on Twitter at @skrishna. She lives outside Philadelphia.

For previous posts in this series, please see The Awesomeness of My Little Free Library and 5 Tips for Running a Little Free Library

By now you all have probably realized that I’m pretty much obsessed with my Little Free Library. Checking it is one of the highlights of my day, and it even has its own Instagram feed complete with stats! But while I’ve discussed how much fun it is to be the keeper of a Little Free Library, I haven’t really talked much about my ideal Little Free Library Patron.


The main way to be an awesome Little Free Library patron is obvious: Use the library. Swing by every couple of days, find books you’re excited about, but also give back. You don’t have to return every book you check out (I encourage my neighbors to pass theirs on to friends if they have someone in mind that might like it), or even have a 1:1 ratio on what you check out versus what you put back. Just make sure that, every once in awhile, you’re leaving a book instead of taking one.

I have some amazing neighbors. They give and give to my library, ensuring that it’s constantly full of new and interesting books. But there are some books that are more desirable than others, and there are some donations that leave me bewildered as to what the person who donated it could possibly have been thinking.

So here are 5 tips to make sure you will be the BEST Little Free Library patron out there. Your steward will LURVE you and squee every time they see you leaving the vicinity of their library.

(1) Carefully consider the books you add to the library.

There are many things to keep in mind here. While someone may indeed be able to use your old travel guides or sheet music, Little Free Libraries have very limited shelf space. You want to donate books with wide appeal, that many people will be interested in, rather than titles that have a narrow range. Think about what you’re adding to the library; this isn’t a donation, where you can get rid of the stuff you’ve had lying around your house for years. This is something you’re sharing with your friends and neighbors. Before you put anything into the library, think about whether what you’re adding might be better off at Goodwill or the library book sale, where there’s a lot more shelf space.

(2) Add a few at a time; don’t break the box.

Filling up the library is a huge no-no. You want there to be room for others to donate a book or two as well. It’s not your opportunity to cram it with as many books as possible. A book or two at a time is much appreciated and much more useful than stuffing the library full. Even if every book you’re adding is amazing, the steward still has to empty it out in order to make sure there’s room for more books to be added and returned, which means what was cluttering your house is now likely cluttering theirs.

(3) A Little Free Library is not your personal book dumping ground.

This goes along with the first and second points, but your neighborhood Little Free Library isn’t your chance to empty out that attic. Textbooks, dictionaries, souvenir guides—these aren’t things that belong in a Little Free Library. I FEEL YOUR PAIN when it comes to getting rid of books. You always want to think that someone out there will be able to use them. But really, when you add these types of books to a Little Free Library, you’re just putting the onus on the steward to recycle them, rather than doing it yourself.

Little Free Library - What Not to Do

What a Little Free Library should NOT look like when you are finished with it.

(4) Consider the aesthetics.

People do not like mass market paperbacks. That’s the honest truth. People also do not like yellowed books. They do not like stained books (ew!). They do not like waterlogged books. They do not like books that are well-worn or have really creased spines. And they especially don’t like pamphlet-type books that don’t have readable spines.

If your book falls into any of these categories, think hard before adding it to your local Little Free Library. The fact is that some books move and some don’t. Any book that falls into this category is likely not going to move much. There are, of course, exceptions—I’ve had a worn mass market paperback of Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible that’s come and gone multiple times, always quickly. But unless it’s a well-known and popular author, people aren’t going to want to take a chance on an unattractive or sticky (again, ew!) book.

(5) Don’t take things personally.

Your steward knows better than you what will move and what won’t. If you donate books and find they’ve all disappeared suspiciously quickly, don’t take it personally. It’s possible they’re amazing books, but your steward doesn’t want the library to get too full. Or it’s possible they’ve made a one-way trip to the recycle bin. (Or someone might indeed have come by and picked them up!) Just trust that your steward knows what they are doing. The library is there for you to ENJOY. Use it, reuse it, and have fun with it.

Whether steward, patron, or curious observer, do you have any thoughts on how to be a great Little Free Library user? Or perhaps a horror story or two about the most dedicated of neighbors who leaves THE WORST books?


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