Steward Spotlight: Jemma Samala

By Megan Hanson

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Jemma Samala decided that it was time: no matter what, she was going to start a Little Free Library book-sharing box. But things didn’t exactly go as she planned.

She had a nice cabinet that she painted, filled with kids books and some toilet paper (there was a shortage at the time), and put in her front yard. She was off to a great start… until someone stole the entire library. Jemma couldn’t believe it and she vented her frustration in her neighborhood NextDoor and Facebook groups. After hearing Jemma’s story, her neighbors came to the rescue!

“I was astounded at the support! So many people said they would come by the library all the time and bring grandchildren and out-of-state visitors! I was determined to bring the library back bigger and better,” says Jemma. “I found some other cabinets at estate sales and bought books or asked them to donate books not sold. My neighbors offered to donate books and a cabinet, and a contractor volunteered to lay out cement and secure the new little libraries [to the ground].”

Now Jemma’s Little Free Library #59534 in San Diego, California, has become a neighborhood landmark with themed goodie bags, bookmarks, candy, and toys. We asked Jemma to share her stewardship tips and advice in this steward spotlight post!

What has surprised you the most since starting a Little Free Library?

“The biggest surprise really was the outpouring of support, which I didn’t realize until after the first one was stolen. And the support continues! The handmade bookmarks that our community Neighborhood Watch captain makes, the treats and toys that people leave for goody bags, and the many, many books that people leave. After the bad, so much more good came out. It shouldn’t surprise me, but it did.”

What types of books are the most popular in your Little Free Library?

“The good old crime mystery novels are the most popular in both paperback and hardcover. I have lots of the paperbacks that I rotate in and out of so there’s a variety available all the time. And the children’s books! Not only do the neighborhood children like to come by all the time to find books, but many grandparents like to come get books for visiting grandchildren.”

What do you think was the most effective way to spread the word about your Little Free Library?

“Social media has really played a big part. I started a Facebook page, and recently Instagram, and try to post new additions and special giveaways. I also will occasionally post on NextDoor and Being Neighborly, especially when I have new items to give away that will benefit the community. I’m the editor of the neighborhood newsletter, so a few times I’ve included articles on the LFLs in our entire neighborhood. And it’s important for me to thank people whenever possible when I post on social media (if I know who donated). But if not, I always say thanks to the ‘neighbor’ that donated so and so.”

Do you have any advice for others thinking of starting a Little Free Library?

“‘Just do it’ is the best advice. I had signed up and received my materials years before I actually started the library. I kept looking for the perfect thing to create my library. The time wasted was joy wasted. The library will bring you much joy and happiness and the knowledge that you have helped share your passion for reading with others. That’s why I try to have a variety of books, because that one book that someone is attracted to can kickstart that person’s journey into reading.

“My sons always preferred non-fiction books that dealt with sports. When stocking, I think of the boys/men who may not be natural readers and try to find books for them, too. Know your audience and what will interest them. Also, it’s OK to donate books that you think won’t be taken. I’ve donated extra books to little libraries in other areas of San Diego that need them, and will be donating a few boxes to a local charity’s rummage sale this weekend.

“Oh, and it’s okay to take books, too. I’ve taken quite a few books inside for my own personal reading and to share with family and friends that I know will love them. You’ve put in the time and effort; you can benefit, too!”

Follow the Little Free Library on Arnoldson on Facebook and Instagram! Ready to bring a Little Free Library to your neighborhood? Learn how to start a little library or find little libraries near you using the LFL world map.

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