On Christmas 2013, Sharon and Bruce Perkins received what Sharon describes as “the best gift we’ve ever asked for.” It was a dollhouse-sized book shelter, handcrafted by their son-in-law, Brian Alwin. Skilled in everything from wood and metalwork to automotive repair, Alwin says that his biggest challenge was waterproofing. He constructed the little library with a plywood frame, overlaid with water-resistant cedar and topped off with a leak-proof tin roof. For design inspiration, he consulted the seemingly infinite array of styles one can find online. “It was a fun project,” he says. “I recommend it to anyone who’s handy.”
Sharon and Bruce, who relocated from rural Chaska to Woodbury’s Pendryn Hill neighborhood three years ago, hoped that their book shelter—a little library—would serve as a bridge between them and their new community. When spring 2014 arrived, the couple decided to debut their little library in a big way, passing out flyers to announce the grand opening of the “Perkins’ Little Library.” Those who stopped by were treated to free pop and door prizes.
“We sat out in our Adirondack chairs,” Bruce says. “People stopped by and stuck around.” Sharon adds, "It was a wonderful way to meet [our neighbors], a really special evening. I knew we'd done the right thing.”
The Perkins’ little library—by Sharon’s description, “wild and noticeable” and “big enough to hold more than a handful of books”—continues to attract attention. The couple reports seeing joggers backpedal and dog walkers pull a double take as they pass. With space for up to 50 books of all shapes and sizes, the unit is on the larger side. Still, Sharon wishes it were even bigger. “I’d love to have a whole section for adults. But then, that would defeat the whole purpose of having a little library, I guess,” she says.
While the collection does include some adult selections, it primarily mirrors the community’s demographic. “Our neighborhood is full of young people,” Sharon says, adding that the age-range of the typical patron is “toddlers on up [to the] age when they’re still reading and not driving cars yet.” The condition of the wares ranges from “very good” to “well loved” (with an abundance of Crayola annotations).
Sharon suggests that distinguishing your little library from more banal lawn edifices (likes mailboxes and birdhouses) is key. “Make it uniquely yours,” she says. The couple's version is vividly painted in red and lime green, and features an eye-catching welcome sign, along with Sharon’s distinctive flourishes such as flower-shaped knobs, a trellis, a tiny birdhouse, a picket fence and a leaping metal hare.
Unlike the public library, the little library has no due dates or late fees. Although “Take a Book, Leave a Book” is posted along the roofline, Bruce says this is more a suggestion than a rule, and adds, “If the children like [the books] enough to keep them, we don’t mind.”
“At first we worried [about] keeping it full without spending a fortune,” Sharon says. “But for the most part, it’s pretty self-sustaining. We always have extra books that we can put in at any time. People have been very generous [in] giving us books.” The Perkins have also become regular bargain hunters at community book sales. “It’s gone beyond what we thought it would be. It’s become a hobby for us,” Bruce says.
While some of its fundamental goals are promoting literacy and “getting kids off those electronic games,” Sharon rates the success of the little library in terms of its immediate, tangible social impact. “The whole neighborhood feels friendly because of it,” she says. “It’s a gift that keeps on giving. I love that!”
Want to Make Your Own Little Library?
Aspiring librarians can find ready-to-install units at the website here. The Little Free Library concept, originating in Hudson, Wis six years ago, is now a national and global phenomenon.