5 Tips for Running a Little Free Library

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, Tor.com, 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 the first post in this series, please see The Awesomeness of My Little Free Library

So. You’ve been hearing about these Little Free Libraries and are intrigued, possibly even considering putting up your own. Or maybe you just love living vicariously and want to know more about what I’ve learned from my Little Free Library in the months it’s been up. Either way, I’ve got you covered.

There are a lot of tips I could give you about running a Little Free Library. Many are somewhat obvious: for example, put the library in a place that gets a lot of foot traffic. Act as a steward: it’s not your responsibility to keep the library full at all times, but it is your responsibility to maintain your collection. But there are some things about it that surprised me; perhaps they’re self-evident as well, but they’re not really issues I thought about until I was actually experiencing them. Here are five unexpected tips I have for anyone new to the Little Free Library world.

Open Little Free Library

5 tips for running your Little Free Library

(1) Recycle early and often

If your library is anything like mine, your neighbors will be generous. The library will probably take on a life of its own. You can let it chug along, running on its own steam, without having to add many books or do much in general. But culling is your friend. You are a STEWARD of the library; it’s your domain. It’s your call on what stays in and what goes. I’m not saying you should get rid of anything that’s not exactly to your reading tastes, but one thing you’ll learn quickly is that people hate to throw away books. I mean hate it. “Of course someone will want to read that old, yellowed, waterlogged textbook from the 1970s,” they’ll think to themselves. It’s your job to be discerning, to pull out the books that you don’t think people will read, and send them to their recycling grave, no matter how painful it might be. And above all else, resist the mentality that landed those books in your library in the first place: “I’m sure SOMEONE might read this..” No, they won’t. Accept it.

(2) People like pretty; people don’t like ugly

Unless a book is by a very recognizable and popular author, if it’s not pretty and in good shape, it will languish. People are much more willing to take a chance on a bright, shiny, pretty book than one that is old and unattractive. And for someone reason, people HATE mass market paperbacks. (Okay, it’s not really that baffling considering I really don’t like them either.) They will sit there. Forever.

(3) Expect books to come back from the dead

I know the idea of a library is that books are taken and returned. That’s obvious. But I didn’t really expect it to happen with a Little Free Library; I figured people would take books, read them, and then…who knows. Pass them on? What I didn’t expect is that about half the books I send out there come back to the Little Free Library. Even some I’ve written off, from the first week of the Library’s short little life, are just getting returned now. There’s always a little thrill when I see a book returned. And you definitely want to encourage books to come back. Which brings me to my next tip.


When you put up your library, your inclination will be to fill it to the brim, bursting with the book you’ve loved and want to share. Resist these urges, my friends. You want to leave room in your library at all times, whether it’s for returning books or your neighbors’ new-to-you ones. In fact, if your neighbors end up stuffing it, it’s a good idea to take some books out temporarily so it’s not too cluttered. Going back to the prettiness factor, if the library has too many books, it’ll turn people off. So make sure your library has a good variety of books, but also that it has space to take on more.

(5) Refresh early and often

Going along with recycling, this final tip is about maintenance. You’ll get repeat customers to your library, the people who walk by every couple of days to see what’s new. If they see the same stuff in there, day in and day out, it gets boring. Make sure your library has good turnover, even if you’re the one that’s turning it over. I’ve had books languish in the library for weeks; I’ve taken them out, refreshed, and then put them back in gradually and they ALWAYS disappear. People just don’t like looking at the same books over and over again. If you freshen things up and switch books out regularly, not only will more books get taken, but people will use your library more often because they know there’s always something new to find.

Any thoughts, hints, or suggestions about what you’d do with your own Little Free Library (or what you do if you have one currently)? Put ‘em in the comments!


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