Little Free Libraries Are Making Book Borrowing More Interesting

The miniature literature loaners have started popping up in Cambridge, Somerville, and Watertown.

Photo Via James Fox/Friends of the Somerville Library

Photo Via James Fox/Friends of the Somerville Library

As digital everything continues to grow, a small but intriguing facet has tapped into a simpler way of attracting people to print while promoting  awareness about local library branches.

“Little Free Libraries,” miniature hand-crafted boxes that hold an abundance of  books that are free to the public, have been around as part of an international trend for some time now, but recently the pint-sized book stops have popped up in Somerville, Cambridge, and Watertown. Boston will also be getting two of the libraries on the Rose Kennedy Greenway in the coming months—one in the North End park, and the other at Rowe’s Wharf. Greenway officials said they purchased the book boxes recently.

James Fox, president of the Friends of the Somerville Public Library, has been managing a Little Free Library of his own since July. “It’s sort of a neat little architectural project,” said Fox, who turned an old call box booth adjacent to Lyndell’s Bakery, long discarded and unused in Somerville, into a bright-red book-hosting spot where passerby can take—or leave—something to read.

Fox said he got the idea to make a mini-library in Somerville after he saw a call for submissions from a community arts organization, The Nave Gallery, about what could be done with the dilapidated, unused booths that were nothing more than eyesores lining the streets. “They wanted to find a use for the old call boxes, and create a project to rehabilitate them,” he said.

A little red paint, some plexiglass to protect the pages of the donated books, and a call-out sign with instructions, and Fox was able to reinvent the booth at little-to-no cost. “There is just something inherently interesting about them, but I can’t put my finger on why,” said Fox, adding that a friend who works at a nearby business has noticed a lot of pedestrians stop to take out a book.

Fox said since its launch in July, he has had to fill the library several times, and has also noticed new books inside of it that he had never placed there. “I definitely noticed in the last three or four times I stopped—the idea is take one, leave one—that there are things that I haven’t put there,” he said.

Cambridge is gearing up for its own version of a small library: A wooden box with the words “Little Free Library” scrawled across the top is situated near the entrance of the Harvard University campus gates. It was donated by the school’s Common Spaces organization as a gift to students passing through. As of Sunday, September 8, the box was empty—and locked—but according to Common Spaces, the library is part of a larger interactive project.


While the larger network of Little Free Libraries doesn’t “officially” recognize Somerville’s library as part of its movement, Harvard’s addition is registered with the international movement, and has a placard to prove it. Registered libraries, which come at a cost, are tagged and placed in a database that can be accessed on the Little Free Library website.

There are micro-libraries in Chestnut Hill, Framingham, Lynnfield, and Pittsfield according to the map of their locations.

The concept of the Little Free Library started more than three years ago in Wisconsin, and has since spread all over the world. To see photos of the various Little Free Libraries around the country, check out the organization’s Facebook page.