Little Free Library FAQs
If your library is made of wood, then we recommend using a standard house paint (water-based or oil-based paints will both work fine). They’re durable, inexpensive, and available at any hardware or home goods store. Before you paint, start by applying a coat of primer. Primer is designed to bond well with wood. Then, apply a few coats of paint on top of the primer. No coats of varnish or sealant are needed if you’re using house paint. (The only time we recommend using varnish is if you painted your library with acrylic paints that aren’t designed for outdoor use.) You could choose to stain your library instead, but it won’t last as long as paint will.
Our library posts are made from real lumber, usually cedar and pine. Cedar, in particular, is prone to “checking,” or developing cracks. This is a very common occurrence. It happens because lumber naturally has a lot of water in it. As the wood takes in or loses moisture from its environment, it will shrink or swell, sometimes causing the wood to split. This is a natural process and it won’t compromise the structural integrity of the post. You can apply a new coat of paint or stain to minimize the appearance of the cracks, if you’d like. Learn more about why real wood “checks.”
Ask library users, neighbors and friends to contribute books. Reach out to local bookstores and the public library staff and ask them to donate excess stock to you. Check our Book Opportunities page regularly for giveaways and opportunities to get free or discounted books.
Keep people informed about what they can bring by leaving a note in your library asking for a certain type of books. But don’t let people assume that someone else (you, for example) is solely responsible. The more people who participate, the better.
Everyone who uses the library has the right of helping make sure the types of books in it are appropriate to neighbors of all ages and backgrounds. You are as capable as anyone else to remove a book … but we encourage you to be open-minded about it. For example, if the library becomes a place for promoting controversial causes, it might lose a good number of customers.
Censorship is not the answer, but a balanced collection can be. Don’t ban books, but instead of five or 10 copies of something, one copy might do. Instead of a messy collection of handouts and brochures promoting almost anything, try limiting pamphlets to recruitment for tutoring or reading programs.
Remember that the purpose of a Little Free Library is to share books, so perhaps the person taking all the books doesn’t have any at home, or is distributing them to others in their apartment complex, school, or retirement community. Over the years we’ve heard from many stewards who’ve discovered that a book “thief” really wasn’t a thief at all.
But if someone is repeatedly clearing out your library and you suspect foul play, considering stamping every book in your library or writing in sharpie on the spines to reduce the resale value. Put up a sign explaining that your little library is a community resource for everyone to enjoy and that you and others notice when the library is mistreated. One steward successfully got the police involved. You could even consider moving the library to a more public location, like a coffee shop or a school, if you continue to have trouble.
You can create an air vent by drilling four small holes in the floor of the library. Drill the holes close to the front (near the door) so that the moisture can flow out without reaching your books.
Also consider placing a dish mat or another inexpensive item on the floor of your library. That will lift the books slightly off the floor and allow air to circulate beneath them, and it will also protect those books in case some water seeps inside when the door is opened.
Some stewards place moisture absorbers like DampRid inside their libraries. DampRid pulls moisture out of the air and may reduce the humidity inside your library. If this interests you, stop by your local hardware store and ask for their recommendation.
First, remove all the books from inside the library. Then spray it with a hose from the outside to expose any interior leaks. Once you have found the leaks, caulk them with a silicone caulk.
If your library is made of wood, then think of it like an exterior deck. Raw wood needs to be painted or stained to protect it from water and sun damage. Standard exterior house paints are a great option. They’re durable, inexpensive, and universally available. We recommend applying a coat of primer before painting or staining your library; the primer is designed to bond well with wood, and will help your paint or stain adhere better. Apply more than one coat of paint or stain for extra weather protection, and reapply every 1 – 2 years, or as needed.
Some people choose to add a few coats of polyurethane varnish on top of the paint or stain, but it may not be necessary. If you’ve painted your library with house paint, that’s more durable than varnish. Applying a new coat of paint every few years will likely protect your library better than varnish will.
Your first option is to leave your library behind when you move. If your neighbors love the library and it gets lots of visitors where it is, the best move might be to let it stay behind.
If you decide to do this, be sure to talk to the new homeowners to make sure that they know what the library is, and that they are willing to take care of it. Also make sure that the new homeowners fill out an add/update your library on the map form with their contact information as the new stewards. That will update our records, as well as the world map. You might also want to encourage them to join our mailing list so that we can welcome them to the network and give them some tips to get started.
Your second option is to leave the library behind, but find a new location or steward for it. You might find that your new homeowner doesn’t want to be a little library steward. If that’s the case, reach out to local schools, community centers, the parks department, and service groups like Girl and Boy Scouts, Rotary Clubs, Lions Clubs, and 4-H clubs to see if anyone would be interested in hosting the library. It’s usually not too difficult to find someone who wants a little library!
Your third option is to take the library with you and install it at your new home. Remember to update our world map with your library’s new location by filling out an add/update your library on the world map form.
If you design and build your library well—and the books do not just sit inside for months at a time—you shouldn’t have any problems. Make sure your library’s door closes securely; make sure your roof has an overhang to stop water from running down the sides and into the library; and look over our tips for building a weatherproof library on the build page. Keep in mind that Little Free Library started in Wisconsin. It gets very cold and very hot, very wet, windy and buried in snow here … but Little Free Library book exchanges survive.