Sometimes you need a Tom Clancy thriller for the airport, a classic storybook to put the kids to sleep or a random guide to hiking the Pacific Crest Trail to kindle those dreams about quitting the office job. For that there are Little Free Libraries – baby-sized bibliotecas people put outside their homes to spread literacy among the community.
The nonprofit organization Little Free Library – which is based in Minnesota and sports the motto, “Take a Book. Share a Book.” – has gone from a handful since its 2012 incorporation to more than 150,000 registered libraries in roughly 120 countries. You’ll often notice them on walks or bike rides, nestled in the neighborhood fabric like birdhouses stuffed with a Craigslist free-pile’s worth of old literature. But if you’re having trouble finding one around you – or just want to explore all the cool, hand-decorated libraries in the area – check out the Little Free Library World Map, which plots the entire galaxy of this charmingly benign enterprise.
The Little Free Library World Map shows the locations, photos and reasons for being of thousands upon thousands of Little Free Libraries worldwide. (Little Free Library)
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The map lets you zoom all over to see close-up photos and the raison d’etre behind each registered library. In the Bay Area, for instance, there’s a Victorian steampunk one in San Jose with a “crank-operated flag-waving mechanism”; one inside the Gardens at Heather Farm in Walnut Creek (“Come for the roses – stick around with a book!”); and one about Black history in Oakland’s Longfellow neighborhood, the “birthplace of the Black Panthers.” Also in Oakland are some of the dozens of little libraries that Steph and Ayesha Curry announced they were helping install beginning last year.
It can be enlightening to learn what inspired the creation of some of these structures. “This library is dedicated to my Sister-Friend who passed away last year,” writes one woman in Martinez. “The way we first connected was through our love for reading. My husband made this library, and we are going to eventually put flowers on the roof of the library.” Says another in Walnut Creek: “We have quite a few kids in the neighborhood. Since the Shelter In Place order, March 16, 2020, there is more foot traffic in the neighborhood. This is my retirement job.”
There are filters that let you search for libraries with banned books, ones with new additions and others that honestly could use a few more titles, if you want to stop by and unload any from your bookshelf. There are indicators if the libraries have hand sanitizer, geocaches, dog treats and more.