Take a book. Leave a book. No library card required. Books are never overdue; in fact, the intention is that they never return. Rather, books continue in circulation until their spines loosen and the text on their pages fades. They pass from one reader to the next, traveling through neighborhoods, crossing states and spanning countries, ultimately bringing people together. That is the mission of Little Free Library.
Tampa Bay is home to over 50 such libraries, with over a dozen in South Tampa. These libraries perch in neighborhoods, parks, even in front of businesses. Chances are you’ve driven by one or know someone who “stewards” one.
“My grandmother taught me to read,” shares Brittany Anderson. “I grew up surrounded by books and I wanted to help my community by promoting literacy.”
Anderson and her husband built a Little Free Library in memory of her grandmother. For their son’s first birthday, they asked friends to bring books in lieu of gifts to serve as the initial collection for their library. Since then the collection has evolved to include books for all ages and the original books have found their way into the hands of readers elsewhere.
Kristina Palmer and her family hosted a Little Free Library grand opening, inviting neighbors and friends to attend. Guests were encouraged to bring books and include a bookplate, giving lineage to the books as they traveled. “It’s nice to be able to share something so special as the joy of reading,” Palmer says.
Engaging with neighbors was a motivator for Kathy Yates as well. Upon moving, she and her family looked to connect with other families in the neighborhood over their love of literature. An English Literature major, Yates loved the idea of making books easily accessible. Sarah Karlo’s Little Free Library has frequent visitors, inspiring others to start their own. “Easily, there is at least one stop a day, some on foot, many in cars. It appears to be part of some people’s routine. It is children and adults alike,”
While many stewards choose their own yards as their library site, Lisa
Vodola, founder of Preschool Readers, designated her local park. Located near the playground at Kate Jackson, her library is ideally situated to attract preschool-age readers as well as older children and families. Partnering with local organizations such as University students, scout troops and Parties with Character princesses, Lisa hosts a monthly story time at her Little Free Library. These free events have drawn increasingly larger crowds, reaching early readers from neighborhoods throughout Tampa. Her only aim? “To foster a love of reading,” Vodola says.
In a world hyper-connected by social media, printed books still serve to bring people together, open up conversation and build relationships all the while promoting literacy and accessibility to literature. As it turns out, the Little Free Library is not so “little” after all. The movement has made a big impact, including in Tampa’s own backyard.
Photos by Brittany Elise Photography. This article was originally published in June’s South Tampa edition of Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine.