How to Turn a Filing Cabinet into a Little Free Library

By Megan Hanson

There are lots of cool Little Free Library plans out there, but if you want to build a book exchange box, you don’t have to start from scratch. An easy way to save money and time is to modify an existing piece of furniture or appliance so that it’s ready for the outdoors. Case in point: you can turn an old filing cabinet into a little library!

Think this Little Free Library design is only suitable for places that don’t get rain or snow? Think again! Below we’ll share examples of how two stewards (one in Cambridge, Massachusetts and one in Scarborough, Ontario) created weatherproof little libraries from filing cabinets.

Lynn Gervens had known about little libraries for a long time before she decided to start one on her block. In her Cambridge, Massachusetts, neighborhood, everyone knows each other and snow shoveling is a community event. One day Lynn and her neighbor Pam were walking home from book group and spotted an old heavy-duty, five-drawer filing cabinet on the curb waiting for trash pick-up. Lynn’s husband Richard helped them haul it home on a hand truck, and they spent the summer painting it and figuring out where to install it.

They put it near the sidewalk between Lynn and Pam’s driveways with flower boxes on either side. To avoid any risk of falling over, they pounded six-foot-long corner irons about two feet into the ground at both back corners. Then they bolted the irons to the cabinet (pictured below).

Lynn says, “The five drawers provide a lot of room for books. There are three drawers for adult books; one for young adults; and the lowest one is for children’s books. The drawers latch shut and do fit tightly, which has worked well to keep the books inside dry. We initially glued strips of thin rubber around each drawer opening, but they have not held up and do not really seem necessary.”

In September 2014, Lynn and Pam hosted a Grand Opening ceremony for their Little Free Library #19067 (find it on the Little Free Library world map)! All the neighbors came by to enjoy refreshments, and the library has been in steady use ever since, especially during the few months when the local public library was closed.

They recently repainted the library since the colors had faded and Richard added a wooden roof. The roof isn’t necessary for weatherproofing; it’s purely decorative and painted in rainbow colors with solar-powered fairy lights attached. “It creates a very welcoming sight and makes me smile everytime I come home!” says Lynn.

Steward Lucy Veale and her daughter Molly decided to build their Little Free Library #98021 in Scarborough, Ontario, as a COVID lockdown project. They started by buying a $5 filing cabinet from a Habitat for Humanity Re-Store. They sanded the outside of it with a cheap mouse sander then used a Rustoleum spray paint to turn it sky blue.

Lucy’s dad built a wooden peaked roof for extra weather protection, using mostly scrap wood and making sure there was a large front overhang to help protect the drawers. Lucy says, “One thing to keep in mind is that the weight of the books can bend the metal a bit. I’ve had to bend it back from time to time so that the drawers close properly. The cabinet has weathered a lot of summer storms this year with no leaks!”

Interested in more creative and cost-effective ways to start a Little Free Library? Check out how to start a library on shoestring budget!

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