Little free libraries (LFLs) are fantastic placemaking elements to enhance a space and community. Victoria is home to a growing number of LFLs, over 135 to be precise! The Greater Victoria Placemaking Network (GVPN) has been mapping these out for the past year, so be sure to check out our LFL Map to find the one(s) nearest to you.
But what if you can’t find one close by? Or you want to foster community in your neighbourhood with an additional LFL? This blog explores how you can get started becoming an LFL steward. The GVPN is pleased to encourage and support people on their paths to becoming LFL stewards, and we are hoping to grow the number of LFLs in Victoria to 150 as part of the Canada 150 celebrations.
So let’s talk LFLs. There are four basic approaches that I’ve seen people take we going about setting up an LFL.
Building an LFL from scratch: This option gives you the most creativity and potential. You can literally build anything, and people have. Little free libraries have taken the form of a Tardis, owls, pianos, to little tiny replicas of people’s houses. I love this option as it allows you to put your own individual stamp on the LFL. This option also requires having tools (the Victoria Tool Library can help with this!), imagination, and some skills working with the necessary materials. The GVPN is looking to set up some workshops in the future to help people learn more about how to do this.
We built our LFL, which resides in Rutledge Park, from a homemade design, but there are also tonnes of designs available online, Pinterest for example is a great source of LFL design inspiration and actual plans. The GVPN is also working on compiling a collection of LFL designs, if you find a good one, be sure to send it to us!
Convert/Upcycle something into an LFL: Many LFLs started out their lives as something else. Medicine cabinets, fridges, TVs, radios, china hutches, newspaper boxes and doll houses (to name but a few), can all be converted into LFLs. The GVPN, for example, sourced a collection of used newspaper boxes from the Times Colonist, and distributed these to folks earlier this summer, and they are beginning to pop up as fully functioning and robust LFLs, like the Alder St. LFL. We currently have a waiting list of folks who have expressed interest in a similar box, and will be sourcing more newspaper boxes soon.
The key with finding something to convert into an LFL is a) being creative, b) making sure it is large enough to fit books of all sizes, or that you are aware of its book size limitations, and c) being sufficiently weather resistant. We had an Ikea cupboard sitting on our floor for a week before I realized that the particle board would literally melt away if the thing were exposed to the elements for too long. Places like Varagesale or UsedVictoria will often have cheap or even free options. I’ve also noticed things that could make good LFLs on the sides of streets in the true Victoria sharing economy style.
With things like cabinets and the like, you will want to consider weathering seriously, and you might want to install a roof on the cabinet. I liked the newspaper boxes because they are robust, weatherproof, don’t need a post or anything, and very versatile.
Use a shelf: We often have the idea that an LFL has to be beautifully crafted tiny home for books, ready to withstand the beating sun of a hot Vancouver Island summer, or the creeping wet of a coastal winter. However not all LFLs need to stand stoically against the elements. Victoria is home to a number of LFLs located indoors. These can be found in schools, senior’s homes, coffee shops or other public spaces. Hillside Coffee and Tea for example, has an indoor poetry LFL, and the Fisgard Street Forum has a great bookshelf. You can set an LFL up inside any public space, and this can involve a shelf, but even be as simple as a section of a table set aside for books.
Buying an LFL: There is an organization, the Little Free Library.org, that has a shop that sells LFLs and LFL kits. I would say this is the least ideal option as they are expensive (with profits going to support the organization). However, the organization also has some great resources on how to build your own, including designs! So this link is worth checking out.
Those who are interested can also register their LFLs through this organization, and get a little charter plaque and included on the groups global map. For context as to how many LFL stewards chose this option, 9 of the ~135 LFLs in Victoria have ‘official’ charters. It is super fun, but not for everyone.
It’s never been easier to become an LFL steward. Get creative, think outside the box (or inside it if you are working on the interior of your LFL), talk to your neighbours and friends and go for it!
If you need any more help, be sure to get in touch, we are standing by to help with advice so that you can bring a new LFL into the world.
Dr. Teale Phelps Bondaroff
Teale serves on the GVPN Board of Directors. Teale is passionate about placemaking, and in particular little free libraries. He first got involved with the GVPN as a volunteer, building our little free library map. For their efforts mapping over 135 little free libraries in the CRD, Teale and his partner Stephanie Ferguson were awarded a Victoria Leadership Award.