A place to convene with neighbors, donate those dusty spy novels and show children the merits of community service comes in a package the size of an old cranberry crate.
These Little Free Libraries, neighborhood-sponsored curbside libraries with a free, “take a book, return a book,” policy, have sprouted up in Arlington since Robert Walter installed one in his neighborhood off Glebe Road and Walter Reed Drive in 2012.
“It’s better than donating to Goodwill, who will sell [the books], and it’s a way to give back to the neighborhood,” said Walter, who heard about The Little Free Library organization on Facebook.
Little Free Libraries encourage communities to contribute any books — from children’s books to novels to cookbooks — as well as to enjoy the contributions made by other neighbors.
There are now seven Little Free Libraries in Arlington, located at 3900 7th Street S., 1060 N. Liberty Street, 4706 32nd Street N., 5117 N. 27th Street, 1700 S. Edgewood Street, 6328 22nd Street N. along a section of the Four Mile Run trail, and on the grounds of Washington-Lee High School.
Last week, each library was stocked with books, including comedian David Cross’ memoir and an installment of the “Berenstain Bears” children’s series.
Much like ordinary libraries, Little Free Libraries are meant to be a community hub. However, they don’t charge late fees or require library cards, just an interest in reading and paying-it-forward.
“It’s good for poor people and the [undocumented] population who might have been intimidated by the registration process at a library, or who want to avoid potential late fees,” Walter said of his Little Free Library. “It’s also more social.”
After his proposal for a Little Free Library was approved by the homeowners’ association of his eight-residence community, Walter requested a box from Little Free Library.
Walter said his homeowners’ association paid approximately $350 for their recycled cranberry crate, its post and installation, but many communities make their own libraries rather than buying them from the organization.
“I’ve seen some really elaborate, cool designs that people have done,” Walter said. The Little Free Library website includes pictures of library “stewards” like Walter, who built their libraries to look like covered bridges or old-fashioned school houses.
More than 2,000 Little Free Libraries exist across the world. Since the organization’s beginning in Wisconsin in 2009, Little Free Library owners in Vietnam, Germany and Australia have registered their libraries on the official map.
For residents interested in installing their own, all that’s needed is the approval of the neighborhood association, access to building materials or the means to purchase a library box, and registration with Little Free Library’s map. A steward to sponsor and maintain the library is also essential.
“When I was a resident, I would just keep a box of books in the house and it was like a constant reserve,” Walter said.
Although Walter has relocated to Fairfax, and will soon transfer stewardship of his library to someone in his old neighborhood, he knows his library still gets frequent business.
“I went back there to pick up some mail, and there were books there, different ones from the last time I saw it,” Walter said.