Create a Little Free Library for Your Neighborhood

Lead Image
What You'll Need
Two 4x8 sheets of ¾ thick nominal plywood (exterior grade)
80 inches of 3/4 lumber at (1.5 to 2.5 inches wide)
Table saw or hand-held circular saw
Miter saw (power or hand)
Power drill or hammer
Post hole digger
A box of 2.5” exterior grade screws or nails
Four three-inch flat L-brackets
A sheet of 1/16” thick plexiglass, at least 15” x 15”
12 1/16”or 1/8” window screen clips
Two flush hinges
Door handle

You may have seen them in various locations around town—decorative boxes filled with books, free for anyone to take home and enjoy, inviting us all to come back and share a book another person might love. Book sharing boxes have been around for years (a social innovation widely credited to the late Todd Bol). They promote literacy, inspire a sense of community, and help cultivate new friendships among like-minded neighbors. Here's how to join in on the literary fun.

Check Regulations

Many cities and towns accept these new outdoor libraries happily, though some locales may require a specific permitting process, and others may discourage them altogether. An HOA or historical neighborhood may not like you tampering with the area's aesthetics, and installing one before gathering the appropriate permission could provoke animosity between you and your community. Be aware of the rules in your area before you embark on this DIY expedition—a little research will save you wasted effort.

Find the Perfect Location

Ideally, you want a visible spot so people strolling by can stop and browse. A highly trafficked sidewalk nearby a park or playground is perfect—it can become a fun destination for parents and their kids enjoying some outdoor time. A house on a cul-de-sac might not be noticeable enough to attract many visitors, though it could be nice for your immediate neighbors.

If you don’t have an enticing location, check with your city or HOA to see if they'll approve installation on a nearby street or public plot for more accessibility. The entrance to a park, beach, or hiking trail might be a good choice, provided local authorities endorse the idea.

a little free library built like a house

Build Your Little Free Library

Step 1 - Cut Base, Back, Roof, and Two Side Panels

Use plywood to form the main structure encompassing the books. Measure and cut a base that is 20.75” x 11.75,” a back measuring 20.75” x 20,” two sides that are 12.5” x 26.25,” and two pieces for the roof measuring 26” x 11.5.”

Step 2 - Cut Door and Face Frame

Using 3/4" lumber, cut pieces for the face frame consisting of a lower horizontal 1.5" x 22.75," an upper horizontal 2.5" x 22.75" (cut it at 45 degree angle to accommodate the sloped roof,) and two vertical sides 1.5" x 16.5."

For the door, cut two horizontal pieces 1.5" x 21.5," and two vertical pieces 1.5" x 17." Or if using a butt technique, verticals should measure 15" instead of 17."

Step 3 - Cut the Shelves

Using 3/4" plywood, or solid wood, cut one vertical piece measuring 9" x 15," a right horizontal piece measuring 9" x 12," leaving it slightly long for proper adjustment during final assembly, and a left horizontal piece measuring 9" x 9."

Step 4 - Assemble the Parts

With screws, attach the back to the base, then both sides. Install front roof panel, providing an overhang to keep the interior dry. Attach back roof panel.

Use pocket screws at the back of the face frame to attach pieces together. Screw or nail the face frame to the front of the main structure.

Attach left shelf to the vertical, then sit it inside the library, using it to mark the right shelf so you can cut to the right size. Secure with screws.

If using plexiglass for the door, cut it to size. If not, use a solid piece, cut to size, then attach to door frame, and attach door frame to structure with self-closing hinges, and optional latch to keep door closed.

Roofing can be anything from cedar to copper flashing, just be sure to use a ridge-cap to keep it weather worthy.

Step 5-Build Support

4x4 cedar posts are both sturdy and resistant to rot, making them ideal for supporting a book sharing box. Mount a 2" x 6" platform as wide as the little library to the cedar post. Eight inch sections of 4x4 cut at 45 degree angles can be attached underneath the platform to provide additional support. Drill six holes into the bottom of the little library that match up with the post platform, attaching it with 2” lag screws.

If you can build a birdhouse, you can build a little library. Choose from straightforward all-in-one kits, or one as complicated as a built-to-scale mini-mansion you design yourself. Whatever style you choose, make sure it can withstand your local weather.

a little free library painted like a house

Weatherizing Your Little Library

Weatherizing your home to protect it from the elements is a no-brainer. Weatherizing your little library should also be a consideration in order to prevent damage to your well thought out project. Regardless of style, a sloped or peaked roof on the structure is a necessity. They shed snow and rain easily, unlike a flat roof where puddling could occur.

The overhang of the roof should extend at least three inches past door. This helps keep snow and rain from running straight down and into the structure, protecting the books from direct runoff when the door is opened. Also, installing a platform inside to keep books from sitting directly on the floor of the box will help keep books from damage if snow or rain do happen to make it inside.

If you don’t have the know how or the time to build it yourself, but still want to bring a library to your neighborhood, contact a local Boy/Girl Scout or 4-H group looking for a service project. It’s a great way to strengthen neighborhood ties, and also spread the word about the upcoming little library. And afterward, you may just get some volunteers to help with maintaining the little library on a regular basis.

Stock it with Books

Gently used books are perfect for your little free library. These can come from your own personal collection that you're culling in order to make room for new ones, or purchased from garage sales or thrift shops.

Talk to your local library! They might have books you can pick up for free to get the reading party started. Strive for a good variety to encourage success—consider adding books for both grownups and children to appeal to a broad range of passersby.

Register Your Library

If you register your library with the official Little Free Library website, you'll officially become part of a community of book sharers around the world (as of 2018, there were over 75,000). Registration also provides you with an official charter sign to post on the library, and allows you to add your structure to the global map.

If you want to kick off the life of your library with a bang, friends and neighbors can help spread the word. Local public and school librarians may be interested in sharing this with their students and patrons, and your neighborhood association might like to know when the grand opening is!