Our Reading Lives

Making Friends in a New City via Our Little Free Library

This is a guest post from Laura Marie, a writer and teacher in Ohio. She reads one or two audiobooks every week, loves falling into a good cooking memoir, and debates feasibility of tech from sci-fi books with her husband.

Even though books have been subversive and political at many critical points in history, people still tend to think of them as an uncomplicated good in modern cities and towns. I know this because when my husband and I built a Little Free Library and stuck it in our front yard, we became known as “the Little Free Library couple” among the circle of community-engaged citizens that we were getting to know.

As in many towns and cities, our town has two dozen or so people that you see at every meeting, in every neighborhood event, at every charity fundraiser. These people didn’t have a way to place us: not that many people move to this city, and we are new to town. We’re nice enough, but even I understand when someone doesn’t really remember those nice but kind of quiet people who show up for a lot of meetings. When we had the Little Free Library to talk about, things changed.

A local elementary school principal looped us in on a new childhood literacy program just because we’d put a box in our front yard full of our old books; people grinned with recognition whenever we were describing where we lived and resorted to using the LFL as a landmark. I was stunned: there is a group of people out there that see the idea of promoting books to kids as great!

I had read cynical coverage of how many towns and cities were looking at whether these Little Free Libraries needed a special kind of permit or zoning, and I’ve read comments from other Little Free Library stewards that people see them as somehow detracting from regular libraries (I mean, really?), so I felt like I came out armed and defensive, ready to tell anyone who mentioned it that we just wanted to share our alarmingly large collection of books with other people and create an easy way for the nearby middle school kids to grab a book that they wouldn’t have to return unless they wanted to.

As usual, people surprised me. While we’ve had to take one or two books out of the Little Free Library as somewhat inappropriate, and twice we’ve had someone pull books out and scatter them on the sidewalk, occasionally ruining them in the rain, the main response has been quiet participation (both taking and leaving books) and enthusiastic praise.

What I’m most grateful for, though, is that it put us on the map in a town where we really don’t know anyone long-term. It gave us a strangely neutral thing to talk about with new people, and it started conversations with people we now really care about. No one ever worries about starting a book-related conversation with us, and we are people who really love those conversations.