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  • Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine

Little Free Libraries

Take a book, leave a book” bookshelves have been around for a long time, often found in spots like dentist offices, bed-and-breakfasts, and the like. The Little Free Library (LFL) movement has taken it to the next level with LFLs in all 50 states and more than 70 countries worldwide, it is estimated that in excess of 50,000 exist, with Napa housing more than ten.

LFLs can be found in the front yards of private residences, businesses, near parks and schools,

anywhere a steward can (legally) put one up and maintain it. LFL stewards can be any person (including myself), or group, that puts up a Little Free Library and oversees it, stocking it with books, keeping it tidy, and general maintenance. Every steward has their own reason for creating a Little Free Library.

Cris Kelly, a local LFL steward said, “I wanted to put up a LFL because I love giving to my community! I love that a LFL can bring neighbors together, and to offer free books to anyone who wants to read or learn. My LFL is very active, it normally attracts at least one person each day. I leave a little notebook in the LFL so folks can write any comments and/or request certain books or certain genres. I have ‘regulars’ who come by often and I love to see them use it.”

It is that sense of community that drives so many stewards to keep their LFL going. Kelly said that one of the things he really enjoys about being a steward is, “The interaction between the patron and me. Whether it’s written interaction or talking with them in person, it’s a true connection with others, sharing of thoughts and ideas, and sharing interests.”

Another local LFL is run by Jennifer Huffman, along with the staff of the Napa Valley Register. “My favorite part of being an LFL steward is seeing people stop and use the library, or noticing that someone has visited and taken some books. It’s like giving a little gift to a random person. You’ve made their day just a little bit better,” said Huffman.

John Haddad, another local steward, added, “It is fun to see people using it – especially kids!”

The LFL movement officially began in 2010, and established nonprofit status in 2012. Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin, built the first as a tribute to his mother in 2009. He and his friend Rick Brooks brainstormed strategies and ideas that lead to 30 more LFL that were given away, and then they watched them multiply as the idea took off. Bol continues to serve as the executive director of the nonprofit.

Each LFL is different, over half are built or created by their steward, the rest are purchased from the organization. Some look like doll houses or bird houses, others are repurposed items like Huffman’s LFL, created out of an old newspaper rack.

“Newspaper racks are already weatherproof and have a door that closes securely. It would be easy to adapt. I convinced our youngest daughter to help me decorate it and we picked out half a dozen rolls of colored duct tape to cover it with stripes. The duct tape was a good idea, it is very durable and it lasted a long time,” Huffman said.

Once built, stewards fill them with books from their own collections, or that are purchased or donated. The official motto is, “Take a book, return a book.” Haddad said, “Our library is off the beaten path, we live on a cul-de-sac, so there is not a lot of foot traffic, but sometimes cars will make a special stop to take or drop off books. Someone wanted to leave a whole box of books once, I told him thanks but I’ve got a garage full already!”

LFL books are easily accessible, and free to everyone. With unlimited hours of operation, no library card needed, no due back dates (although many LFLs encourage you to return a book once you’re finished reading it so others may enjoy it as well), books for all ages, and no late fees, LFLs promote literacy with easy access to books for all. They also promote community, with many stewards claiming they meet more of their neighbors with their LFL than ever before. It even serves as an easy, automatic icebreaker.

Over 250 LFLs have their own Facebook page, taking community interaction to social media for even more access. To create your own LFL, the organization offers over 20 finished models, build-your-own kits, accessories, ideas for making your own with found objects or repurposed items, building plans, and more for stewards at every level of interest. There are also maps and locators so you can find LFLs in your area. For details, and more information, visit

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