You’ve done it - you’ve started your own Little Free Library! It’s up and running, but how will you maintain and manage it? Following my previous post on tips to start your own Little Free Library, I’ll now outline my advice for running a successful Little Free Library.
Let’s review how to acquire books for your Little Free Library. You can get books affordably in many ways. For my neighborhood library, I buy books on a budget at my local thrift stores and garage sales. I also accept donations if someone approaches me and offers. For the libraries located at my schools, I buy books with Scholastic Dollars earned from our book fairs. Teachers and students have organized book drives for the Little Free Library, and I accept donations when anyone offers.
Determine what patrons will use your Little Free Library, and supply books to fit their interest. At the libraries located at my schools, I only put books suited for elementary-age readers. I put in a combination of picture books, beginning chapter books, and 4th/5th chapter books. At the library located in my neighborhood, I supply books for a wide-range of users. I put in baby books, picture books, beginning chapter books, 4th/5th chapter books, teen books, and adult novels. I try to supply something for every member of the family, both young and old.
To track the books I supply, I mark each book with a sticker located on the spine. Since users take a book and leave a book, I can quickly distinguish between which books are mine and which books were donated. This allows me to determine what types of books are moving (and not moving) and I get to know my patrons and their interests. For the library located in my neighborhood, I’ve found that my girl books disappear quickly (especially my 4th/5th chapter books). Girls are my biggest users! I buy and add girl books most often. I have found that adult books do not move very often, so I only keep about 4 adult books in the library and leave more room for picture and chapter books. All of this data can be collected by adding a distinguishing sticker to the books you supply. My sticker has “Little Free Library” printed on it which acts as free publicity and a reminder of your library as the book moves on. Plus, it’s fun to see a book you provided come back weeks and months later. I’ve even had one of my books returned to me at the public library because it arrived there with of my stickers!
Aside from books, I suggest providing a few additional items inside your Little Free Library. Many people are unaware of what a Little Free Library is and how it works. So I suggest creating an informational flyer outlining facts about your library and keeping a good amount in stock for users to take. In my neighborhood library, I also have a small container of dog bones that I keep stocked. People visit the library as they walk their dog. The owner gets a book, while the dog gets a treat! Many Little Free Libraries have a guest book for visitors to sign. I had a guest book when I first opened my neighborhood library, but gave it up after a few months. It became one more thing to check often and I feared it would become a place for inappropriate chatter. I didn’t want my young readers exposed to any foul remarks.
One of the biggest misconceptions is that Little Free Libraries run themselves - people give a book and take one, so there is always a steady supply of quality books on hand . . . wrong! It will take ongoing work and effort to maintain your Little Free Library and keep patrons visiting.
Here’s my biggest advice . . . If you want people to continue visiting and using your Little Free Library, take out low-interest books that are donated and replace them with high-interest books. This will happen to you - your users will take the new, cool book you put in and leave behind an old, out-dated book they found lying around their house. That’s why I’m constantly buying books and donating low-interest books to Goodwill. But it’s important to do this! If you leave unpopular books in your library, people will stop visiting. Take out the bad books to free up room for good books. If you put in a book and it’s not moving, take it out and replace it with something else. If you keep it fresh and give users what they want, they’ll keep coming back.
How often do you check on your Little Free Library? Your library will be used more in warmer weather. In the winter, I check on my libraries twice a month. In the summer, I check on my libraries once (and sometimes twice) a week.
When you check on your Little Free Library, what do you do? First, I organize all the books - they can become quite messy! Second, I add more dog bones to the container and make sure there’s enough informational flyers available for the taking. Third, I take out all the damaged and low-interest books for donation. I also take out any books that have been there awhile and are just not being taken. Remember, don’t leave in unpopular books. Try to keep all your books fresh and high-interest. Fourth, I add books to ensure a variety. For my neighborhood library, I add a few baby books, teen books, and adult books. Then I pack it full of picture books, beginning chapter books, and 4th/5th chapter books. I also ensure a variety of girl and boy books. I never know what type of books I’ll need to supply when I visit, so I keep my collection of books in the truck of my car. I drive around with four boxes of books in my car at all times - it’s a hazard of being a steward! I could add them to my car every time I visit the library, but it’s heavy to lift them and it’s just easier to leave the boxes in there all year round.
Managing and maintaining a Little Free Library is a lot of work, but the rewards are worth every minute. You’ll be building community, promoting literacy, and impacting readers both big and small. I love driving by my libraries and seeing patrons using them - parents and grandparents reading books to young children on the nearby bench. I see neighbors walking and riding bikes with books in their hands, and I know they’re either going to or leaving the Little Free Library. I hope you start your own library and experience these pleasures for yourself. Best of luck to you and happy reading!