Title

Building Community, Breaking Barriers: Little Free Libraries and Local Action in the United States

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

4-25-2017

Keywords

community, municipal policy, libraries, Little Free Library

Abstract

Against a backdrop of stagnant literacy rates (NCES, “Table 604.10”; NCES, “NAAL”) and an enduring perception of urban decay and the decline of communities in cities (Putnam), legions of Little Free Libraries (LFLs) sprung up across the United States between 2009 and the present. The organization behind the movement cites “building community” as one of its three core missions (LittleFreeLibrary.org). This article investigates whether and how Little Free Libraries build community and explores barriers to the program, specifically municipal building ordinances used in attempts to eradicate the libraries. It also explores local responses to these municipal actions. To answer these questions, this paper employs qualitative analysis of stewards’ comments about their Little Free Libraries on the organization’s website, a small number of interviews with local LFL stewards, and an analysis of municipal challenges to LFLs in Los Angeles, Louisiana, and Kansas using press coverage of the disputes and, when available, municipal documents. The provisional argument is that LFLs do build community as neighbors come together to erect, maintain, and stock LFLs and discourse between individuals occurs at LFL boxes. Additionally, when a municipality threatens a LFL, people also come together to protest its removal. Through this protest, communities—networks of people working toward a common goal—are created. This aspect of community building around LFLs was unintentional, but it is community building nevertheless.