Connecting Communities Through Books

Let me tell you about a successful community project that I set up in our village: the Little Free Library.

When I was a member of the parish council, I secured a grant from West Oxfordshire District Council in 2015 to set up a Little Free Library. I know that there is some controversy among professional librarians who view these little boxes as offensive, for using the term “library” incorrectly. Although ours is officially referred to as a Little Free Library, I suppose the correct term ought to be a “community book exchange.”

These book exchanges are part of a global network that promotes literacy in local communities. The Little Free Library movement began in Wisconsin, USA (where I used to live) and has spread around the world.

Here’s how it works; anyone is welcome to give or take as many books as they wish, and they don’t have to bring them back. There is no permanent collection of books: rather, all the books belong to the community and they come and go as people give and take them. It is a great way for people to share used books that they no longer want, and to swap them for new ones. We have an incredibly high turnover of books, and the community is very generous with donating their used books, which are usually in fantastic condition.

Our first Little Free Library was such a huge success that we opened a second, larger one in another part of the village, in 2020. We converted a disused telephone box with funds raised by a local group, The Teddy Girls, who hold craft sales to raise money for village projects.

These book exchanges are used every day by all age groups in our community. As a result, I have met and got to know more people in my community than I otherwise would have done, and it has become a valued asset in our village that has no amenities other than a school, church, village hall and a pub (our mobile library service was scrapped in 2016 due to government funding cuts, and our bus service was also taken away).

I am passionate about communities and how libraries connect them (my senior thesis was on this topic). Although in no way a substitute for a real local library, these small book exchanges are a great way for neighbourhoods to share used books and to foster a greater sense of community.

I now manage a team of four volunteers who help to keep the Little Free Library tidy and well stocked, which indicates just how popular and well-used it is.

This has been nothing but a positive experience, and the project has been overwhelmingly embraced by the community. Long may it continue to nourish a whole village of bookworms.

(This post was originally written as an article on my LinkedIn page in February 2023).


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