The relationship between Little Free Library book-sharing boxes and public or school libraries is a frequent and often contentious discussion among readers. It’s easy to forget that the end goal of all libraries big and small is the same: getting books into peoples’ hands. Little libraries complement public library services and increase access to books in neighborhoods far from public libraries.

Potwin Public Library Little Free Library

In Potwin, Kansas, the public library is located in a historic bank and they designed their Little Free Library book exchange to match! Can you spot it?

Some folks express concerns that Little Free Library book exchanges are unnecessary in cities with strong public library systems, or that book-sharing boxes usurp the services public libraries provide. School librarian and little library steward Heather Hedderman said, “I see [Little Free Libraries] as an extension of my program and opportunities. We share resources and materials.”

Similarly, public library patron and library steward Madeline Knoblock describes the relationship between her public library and little libraries in her community as very positive. She adds, “Our public library hosts socials for LFL stewards and also provides us with books.”

In April, Little Free Library steward Jenny Hudak (charter #13962 in Sheboygan, Wisconsin) shared this sweet surprise on the Little Free Library Stewards Facebook page:

Another advantage to partnering public and school libraries with Little Free Library book boxes is expanded access. Many public libraries, especially in rural areas, have limited hours and resources. Utilizing a little library to offer after-hours access to books is not only a budget-friendly workaround, but a creative way to get rid of books libraries want out of circulation.

In Ashland, Ohio, the public library expanded their reach by installing six Little Free Library book exchanges around the city. As trends in reading and publishing change, so do the ways public libraries function. Little libraries offer an opportunity for school and public libraries to creatively adjust to a number of new challenges facing communities of readers.

Little Free Library steward Penny Richards says, “When Manhattan Beach, California, closed their library for almost two years to completely rebuild it, residents of the beach community were encouraged to build little libraries; there were several near the construction site, and others scattered around town.”

We think the possibilities for collaboration are endless! In fact, many stewards and librarians agree that collaboration has gotten community members reacquainted with their public libraries and taking advantage of their services.

What little libraries can offer communities—after-hours access, a fun outdoor landmark where readers can gather, and endless collaborative opportunities—complements what public and school libraries are already doing! After all, public and school libraries provide computers, classes, and more resources that are unique and irreplaceable. By re-imagining the book-sharing experience, public and school libraries can find new life in the next generation of readers.

If you’re ready to bring a Little Free Library book exchange to your school or public library, check out the success stories and special offers available on our schools and educators page.

Want more? See how the Ojai Public Library leveraged local little libraries to get kids excited about reading, or check out the “passport to reading” event put on by the public library in Saline, Michigan!

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