Want to learn about how to build, install, and curate a little free library? Here’s what we learned from managing two free libraries.
We love free libraries. We’re frequent users, and always check all of our local free libraries for interesting books. So, when Una (aged 7 at the time) really wanted to build a free library, she and Brad built two of them! One for our cooperative housing complex and another for our cottage.
Our free libraries aren’t the most artistic or funky looking. However, they are very functional and solid. We painted them to match the buildings (using leftover exterior paint) so they’re pretty cute. It’s also a really simple free library design. Perfect for anyone new at woodworking.
If you want to jump right to the recommended plans, they’re linked at the bottom of the post. However, I wanted to share a bit of free library advice for anyone just getting started.
Curating your Free Library Collection
Probably the most surprising aspect of owning a free library was how much work it would be to curate the collection!
Luckily, we have two free libraries with very different audiences. So I carry books back and forth to manage the collections.
The cottage collection
- Our cottage is on an island with a population of about 350 people. It’s the only free library on the island, so new books are really exciting. However, if a book sits in the library for more than a few months, then I know no one is interested in it.
- I remove books that have been in the library for a while and make sure to add new books on a monthly basis. This way everyone can find something they want to read.
- There aren’t many children on the island, so I make sure to rotate through the children’s books so they have a chance to choose what they want to read.
The Urban Collection
- Our coop free library is on a busy street. During tourist season we have hundreds of pedestrians a day.
- In the winter the collection grows. In the summer, it’s hard to keep any books in the library. Luckily my neighbors have taken on the challenge. We have boxes of books in our community room that we slowly feed into the library in the summer.
Both free libraries are prone to particular concerns that you may not have thought of. These are a few reasons why curation is important:
- Garbage: I’m not sure why… but people leave garbage in our cottage library. Not garbage books, but candy wrappers, empty beer cans, etc. I think it’s because we’re on the route to the general store, and there are no garbage cans for pedestrians.
- Free Stuff: People probably mean well when they leave free stuff in and around the library. But it’s not really the place for it.
- Flyers: Our coop library often has piles of flyers. I remove any that are out of date or have controversial/inappropriate content. (Someone in our neighborhood has been sharing the end-of-the-world flyers since 2012…)
- Inappropriate books: I don’t want to choose which books get to be in our library. In general, don’t believe in banning books. However, twice we’ve had books with racist content (both were written in the early 1900s, and both were aimed at children).
Build Your Free Library
We made the “Simplest Free Library” using our kreg pocket jig system. It was really easy. There are tons of other plans available on line. Probably the best place to look is on Little Free Library.org. They have a really good list of plans.
The best part about owning a free library is that you can add all sorts of fun design elements! Here’s a few of our library design elements.
- Both libraries were painted to match our buildings.
- We originally built both libraries with a clear door. It was perfect for our north-facing coop property. However, all the books ended up sun-bleached at our south-facing cottage. So we switched that door for a solid one.
- The coop library had someone from the community create a very amazing sign (I’ve blacked out our address). Una and one of the other kids in our community painted pictures on the side of the library.
- Una stenciled flowers onto our cottage library.
Setting The Post
A free library is quite heavy. It’s important to properly set the post to ensure it’s stable.
At our cottage, we set the library into our rock wall. That meant there was no digging involved! We just created a rock cavity for the library, filled it with quick concrete, set the post in, then continued to build the wall around it. I wasn’t entirely sure about the stability, but it’s lasted several years!
Generally, free library posts are set in the ground. Here are the steps to installing your free library post:
- Dig a hole: The hole needs to be at least 1 foot wide, with a depth that is 1/3 the length of your post. So if you want your free library to sit at 5 feet high (typical height) the hole needs to be 2 1/2 feet deep.
- Center the post in the hole: It’s easiest to set the post if the library isn’t already attached to it. We had the mounts already attached to our post, but didn’t add the library until after the post was fully set.
- Concrete: You will need 2 to 3 bags of quick-set concrete for your post. Have a friend hold the post steady while you mix and pour the concrete. Make sure it ends up roughly level with the ground.
- Wait: The concrete will start to set right away, so you won’t have to hold the post for long. However, it takes a few days to a week, depending on the weather, to fully harden. Don’t add your library until it’s solid.