Seattle's Child

Your guide to a kid-friendly city

Little Free Library

Photo by Jillian O'Connor

How to start your own Little Free Library

There are thousands in the Seattle area, but there's always room for one more!

When Andrea Woods found herself in pandemic lockdown in 2020, she wanted to do something to cheer up her community so she started a Little Free Library, a neighborhood book exchange where families can take a book to read or leave a book for others.

That Little Free Library became a hit.

“I get messages from people thanking me for starting the library, saying how they got a new book they wouldn’t have known about, or sharing how much their kids love it,” observes Woods, who owns an event space in Ravensdale called Ravenwoods Farm.

In a time when community gathering isn’t always easy, Little Free Libraries are a wonderful way to establish a sense of community. They also offer families access to books and help kids understand the importance of reading.

“If you introduce books to your kids early and engage with them, you can really start a lifelong interest in reading,” says Paula Jenson, a Little Free Library steward and former lead for the Little Free Library project at Sustainable Ballard.

Little Free Libraries are an easy way for families to get started on reading. With more than 50,000 registered Little Free Libraries in Seattle and its surroundings, families can take advantage of access to free books in virtually every neighborhood in the area.  

How kids can help

Besides promoting literacy, Little Free Libraries also help families introduce a culture of community service. Kids see how their actions can have a positive impact on others.

“There are many ways kids can participate, from organizing to restocking the library,” says Jennifer Kelty, executive director of The Children’s Center (TCC) at Burke Gilman Gardens in northeast Seattle, whose Little Free Library serves not only TCC families but also families from the neighborhood.

“It’s a great way to build community,” adds Kelty. “We meet more of our neighbors because they’re donating and also stopping by to pick out books for their kiddos.”

Establishing a Little Free Library is simple. Families can purchase building supplies from LittleFreeLibrary.org. Or, for a more low-cost option, they can upcycle old furniture or appliances and use those parts to build the box.

“There’s no specific designation for any design,” explains Jenson. “You just need to make sure no moisture can get in because that can really wreck books.”

Jenson suggests visiting used and salvaged building materials stores like Ballard Reuse to source the materials. Or families can reach out to their local neighborhood groups to gather donations of materials and labor.

“A retired Boeing engineer offered to build my library,” recalls Woods. “He wanted to do something for the community too, so I bought the materials and he donated his time.”

Families who don’t want to set up their own Little Free Library but still want to contribute books can use the maps on the Little Free Library website to find libraries in their communities. For popular libraries, having multiple families adding books can be an immense help. Kelty says that kids’ books tend to get frequent wear and tear. Both she and Woods take advantage of local Buy Nothing groups to stock up on books when the need arises. 

Woods is quick to point out the role her community has in making her Little Free Library successful. Local families add books; her kids help decorate the library for different seasons. 

Their effort shows how reading can truly bring communities together.

More for book lovers

More books coverage in Seattle’s Child

Also, don’t miss the 2021 Best Books list by King County Library System