Little Free Library Etiquette


It’s no secret that I’m obsessed with Little Free Libraries, as are many in the bookish internet. Every few posts on my Instagram is a picture of a new one I’ve spotted (I rounded up my collection in 2017, if you’re curious), and I often get tagged in photos by friends and family whenever they spot “one of those little book bird houses.” I’m kept abreast of the books my friends find in their local Little Free Libraries and how amazing it is that they were able to come home from a walk with a new book to read. Whenever I’ve moved to a new neighborhood, people have asked me what the Little Free Library situation is like — there are only TWO in my current surroundings, and they’re at a school and municipal building. I’ll have my own soon enough.

Anyway, because of this deep love, I’m declaring myself to be the person to dispense Little Free Library etiquette. It’s like regular etiquette, but specifically about books and being neighborly. Basically, don’t be a jerk! But apparently the world needs things to be more specific than that.

Let’s begin with a little story that filled my soul with rage and ignited the fire for this list of do’s and don’ts of Little Free Library etiquette.

A few weeks ago, my brother proudly texted me about how he policed someone misusing a Little Free Library at his train station. This fiend was emptying the happy book box of all its books and replacing them with…Bibles. So many Bibles. You know, one of the easiest books to find and acquire and/or steal from a hotel room.

Heroic Brother confronted the person, asking what they were going to do with all the books they were taking out.

“I dunno. Donate them, maybe.”

“Oh, you mean like how they were donated to this little library?”

*long pause*

Brother continued to stand by and heckle as the offender put some of the original books back. He asked if they’d considered the fact that not everyone on the planet shares their religious beliefs, or that this is a community’s library, where perhaps there are people who rely on it for their reading material. What about kiddos who come here looking for board books to read at bedtime and instead find infinite copies of a single book with tiny type and far too many pages?

The butthead didn’t really have any answers to those questions. They still crammed that Little Free Library with Bibles, though.

Now, let’s get to that etiquette course.

Little Free Library Etiquette

The standard “take a book, leave a book” motto is good, but here are some further, more nuanced, rules.

Don’t Empty the Library

Seriously, don’t do it. If you think you’re going to make oodles of money by selling them, you are incorrect, unless someone dropped off an incredibly rare book. But that is even less likely than you earning more than $5 total for a bushel of books. Emptying the library is mean and selfish. And you don’t want to be mean and selfish, do you?

Do Tidy It Up

Take a few minutes to get all the books lined up and facing the same way for better viewing! I don’t think I’ve ever passed a Little Free Library without stopping to reorganize it — it’s just one of those perfect joys that can make someone else’s day a little bit brighter.

Don’t Overstuff the Library

This is not your dumping ground! Only drop off books you find valuable that you think your community will pick up and read. Otherwise the happy book box gets clogged up with your dumb garbage books and other people won’t be able to shelve their good books! Also, for the love of dog, do not donate these books.

Do Remove Garbage

It should go without saying that you should not put garbage in a Little Free Library, but here we are. Along with tidying, if you don’t mind carrying it for the rest of your walk, please take any garbage or damaged books or magazines with you to dispose of. It keeps the library looking fresh.

Don’t Fill It With Propaganda

Sure. You have the best belief system or political candidate or whatever and want to spread the word. But a Little Free Library is not your free podium or advertising space. It is meant to be a kind community offering of good books.

Now, go forth and be good Little Free Library neighbors, okay?

For more detailed etiquette rules, see this list of 5 tips for being an awesome Little Free Library patron, right from a library steward herself.


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