I have been the proud owner and steward of Heather’s Little Free Library for three years. I had long wanted one and my sweet husband bought it for my birthday. We installed it in front of our house and have enjoyed watching it become a valued part of the community. My husband says it is like having a bird feeder for people. We just fill it with books and watch from the windows when our neighbors come and sift through the box. It makes me ridiculously happy.
Friends who hear about our Little Free Library are intrigued, and they wonder how it works. The most frequently asked question I get is “Do people actually use it?” The answer is a definite yes. We live at a well-traveled intersection in our neighborhood, a common route for dog walkers and joggers. And we live three blocks from an elementary school, so a lot of families pass by. Our LFL gets consistent use—every week a few books show up and another handful leave. I regularly get donations from bookish friends and people in the area, so keeping it stocked is rarely an issue.
Fellow Rioters have shared helpful tips for running a Little Free Library, suggestions for getting more books when your LFL is running low, and how to be a good LFL patron. I found those posts incredibly helpful when I was getting started with my own new Little Free Library. Now that it is well established, I’ve turned my attention to finding ways to keep my regular patrons coming back. Here are some things that have worked for me.
Have books for all ages and make them easy to find.
My LFL has two shelves. I have designated the lower shelf for children’s books and the upper shelf for teen/adult books. At this point, everyone pretty much keeps them where they belong. The kids have books easily within reach and they know just where to look when they come to visit. Adults don’t have to wade through the picture books to find historical fiction, and their shelf is at eye level, making it comfortable to browse. It also makes it easy to see when we are running low on one or the other. The neighbors generally fill in the gaps when it becomes apparent what we need.
Use social media to keep patrons engaged and aware of new titles.
I have a Facebook and an Instagram account for my Little Free Library. There is a sign on my LFL telling patrons where to follow us. In my posts I feature new titles, bring attention to recent donations, and post occasional Steward Recommendations when I add a book to the LFL that I particularly liked. I also like to participate in the #RiotGrams Instagram Challenge when they roll around just to get folks talking about books. You can spend as much or as little time on this as you like. At the very least, posting a picture of your current stock once a week helps remind folks that the LFL is there and that there are new offerings.
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STEWARD RECOMMENDATION: When Breath Becomes Air is a moving, beautifully written memoir by Paul Kalanithi, a brilliant young neurosurgeon who was diagnosed with terminal cancer. As he lived his last months, he wrote this book, wrestling with the question "What makes a life worth living?" Although the subject is heavy, I found it to be life-affirming and profound. Thanks to the neighbor who donated this marvelous book. Available now in the LFL. #littlefreelibrary #greatnonfiction
Offer a diverse range of genres.
I get enough sizable donations that I always have an extra stash of books in my house. I check my LFL periodically and try to make sure there are a variety of genres available. It is not uncommon for someone to donate several mysteries, or a bunch of books by the same author. I usually leave just one or two in the LFL and then pull other titles from my back stock to diversify the selection in the LFL. I curate often to help create a collection that will appeal to a broader range of readers.
Make an extra effort now and then to renew interest.
I have found that if you have a decent location and keep a good selection of books available, bookish people will find and use your Little Free Library. Mine generally keeps getting used even when I have a few busy weeks and do don’t much to help promote it. But when I have the time, it can be fun to do something extra just to encourage visitors to take a peek. Decorate your LFL for Christmas. Try a theme week of scary books for Halloween. Do a Blind Date with a Book for Valentine’s Day. Put some bookmarks out. Sometimes it helps boost traffic just to remind your neighbors that the LFL is there and available.
Having a Little Free Library has been a wonderful experience for me. I’d love to hear how other stewards are finding ways to engage their neighbors in reading and share their love of books. Feel free to post your tips in the comments!