It’s always exciting to come across a miniature library box at a park or on a trail with the words “take a book, leave a book.”
While public libraries and bookstores had to temporarily shut down to prevent spread of the coronavirus, a nonprofit organization known as Little Free Library (LFL) is thriving as an easy way to get literary resources in the Albuquerque community.
With over 60 registered boxes in town, people of all ages can find something enjoyable to read, especially during the extended pandemic. LFL recently partnered with the City of Albuquerque and hopes to expand in the near future.
LFL was founded over a decade ago in Hudson, Wisconsin and has expanded to more than 100 countries with over 100,000 registered boxes across the world. Now, with the help of the city’s Office of Civic Engagement program known as One ABQ Volunteers, becoming a steward is an official volunteer opportunity in Albuquerque.
Kelsea Kilbride, the outreach coordinator for the Office of Civic Engagement, said stewards are the people in charge of starting and maintaining a Little Library. But lately, that hasn’t been a difficult task, according to Kilbride. In fact, the libraries almost operate by themselves.
“It's interesting, actually,” Kilbride said. “You’d think stewards on paper are expected to be the ones who maintain their library, and if it starts falling apart or if there's a leak, they’re the ones expected to fix it up. But a lot of our stewards that we’ve talked to in Albuquerque have said that so many people in their community love their Little Library so much that people just kind of help them take care of it across the board.”
Kilbride said one steward noticed a group of teenage boys that come to the Little Library in their neighborhood and repair it when it’s damaged or donate books when it’s low. Different groups like the Scouts of America have also been involved with supporting LFL.
Linnea Hendrickson is a retired librarian with her own library. She wanted to share her book collection with the neighborhood, so her husband built a yellow and black library almost two years ago.
“It seems like even when we haven't been there, people are looking out for our Little Library,” Hendrickson said. “It feels like it’s everybody’s Little Library, so I think that’s kind of nice.”
Hendrickson said she noticed an increase of activity at her Little Library once the pandemic started, when people no longer had physical access to local libraries. That’s how Kilbride first got involved with turning this into an official volunteer opportunity in Albuquerque. When local bookstores were deemed non-essential businesses, she knew the city was going to need a way to get people books.
“The partnership between LFL and the City of Albuquerque was first prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic in an effort to support literacy and provide access to books while public libraries, schools and bookstores were closed,” LFL director of communications Margret Aldrich said in a press release on June 30. “But what began as an emergency measure quickly became an opportunity to expand equitable book access far beyond the pandemic.”
Kilbride said LFL is trying to encourage people to share books about racial justice, especially those authored by Black and Indigenous authors in order to have a broader conversation about equity in the community.
One thing many local neighborhoods are doing in light of the pandemic is turning Little Library boxes into food pantries with canned goods, hand sanitizer, toilet paper and other supplies that people might need. Some stewards are disinfecting their library every day, but Kilbride said the risk of spreading a virus through books is relatively low.
LFL has pre-made boxes or build kits available for order that can cost anywhere from $100 to $300 online. However, LFL is offering a 5% discount to people who order online with the promo code ABQ5.
The Albuquerque Office of Civic Engagement is working to find a way to reduce the financial barriers for constructing and registering a Little Free Library. LFL has a grant program called Impact Library that people can apply for if they are constructing the library in a place where books are scarce. Kilbride said that a steward in Albuquerque was recently accepted to receive a free library kit.
Kilbride said the community is noticeably hands-on with building their own weather-proof libraries instead of buying the kits. While you still have to order a charter sign to get the library registered and on the LFL map, Kilbride said some stewards believe that up to 50% of the Little Libraries in Albuquerque aren’t registered.
Hendrickson said receiving donations has never been a problem, and she's actually had to bring some books inside until there was more room. Kilbride said the purpose of partnering with Little Free Library was to encourage more people to build and register their own little libraries to get more books available across Albuquerque.
Daniel Ward is a senior reporter for the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @wordsofward34