One of the most creative and cost-effective ways to start a Little Free Library is convert an old newspaper dispenser into a Library.

With the internet delivering news to millions of people these days, a lot of news companies have stopped selling their newspapers through steel vending boxes; that means there are thousands of newspaper dispensers that are no longer in use. One call to your local paper and you might be able to get one of these boxes on the cheap, or even for free.

How to Find a Newspaper Vending Box

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Bob Shipley converted two newspaper vending boxes into Little Free Libraries!

Steward Bob Shipley in Albuquerque, New Mexico, has created two Little Free Libraries from old newspaper dispensers he got from the Albuquerque Journal. In this post, he’ll share exactly how he did it, so that you can do it, too!

Converting an old coin-operated newspaper dispenser can be a marvelous adult/child project! Kids can learn valuable skills as they fix up the Library and take ownership of it as the Library’s steward. 

I’ve seen pictures of many of these old newspaper racks, and they all seem to be built the same way. You should be able to use the following instructions to help you create a Little Library from just about any newspaper dispenser.

Sometime in 2015 I read a small article in the Albuquerque Journal that the newspaper company was going to phase out the use of all their newspaper vending racks. I had seen pictures of one or two Little Free Libraries made from these very standardized steel structures, and I thought it would be fun to use them to build a Library or two.

A phone call to the Journal led me to the person handling disposal of the racks, and I had to answer a few questions about how many I wanted, and what I wanted to do with them. I impulsively said I wanted five, and would convert them into Little Libraries. That got an okay, an appointment, and directions to the newspaper’s warehouse.

So, I drove to the warehouse and loaded five newspaper dispensers into my truck. It was a good thing I hadn’t asked for six, because I couldn’t have gotten even one more onto the truck! Each rack probably weighed 40-50 pounds; they were all made from heavy gauge steel sheets.

How to Convert a Newspaper Vending Box into a Library

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Make to sure to leave space for the door prop on the inside!

To convert one of these newspaper dispensers into a Library, you first need to remove the spring-loaded steel shelf. It’s held in place with a removable steel rod and spring on each side. Then, you can glue or wedge one or two shelves into the box.

Take note of the prop mechanism on the left side of the box; make sure it clears the shelf when the door is opened and closed.

You will need basic shop tools and patience; prepare for some trial-and-error along the way!

I suggest that you have the following materials on-hand before you get started:

  • Scraps of plywood or laminate flooring, cut to size to fit the inside floor of the vending box
  • Liquid nail, used to secure the wood shelf supports inside the box (The shelf can just rest on the supports, you don’t need any additional fasteners or hardware.)
  • A screwdriver or automatic drill
  • Sandpaper to scrape off dirt and dead paint, if you plan to re-paint or decorate the box
  • An exterior paint to decorate your Library, such as Hirschfield heavy duty 100% acrylic latex interior/exterior paint

There is a convenient metal prop on the left side of the door. If you lift the prop a half-inch or so, it will hold the door open. newspaper-vending-box-door-propped-openSince the door is spring loaded, you don’t need a latch to keep it closed, and you can rest easy knowing that the materials inside will stay safe and dry.

You can leave the coin box on the top of the unit in place, as long as you remove the heavy interlocking bar.

If you want to add a custom roof, then you can take off the coin box by removing the four small nuts that hold it in place.

Almost any kind of roof would work—pitched, shed or just flat. (Keep in mind that if you get a lot of rain or snow, you will want to avoid a flat roof, so that water doesn’t puddle on top of your Library.)

If you decide to create a custom roof as a separate project, you can use the same four bolts that you removed from the coin box to secure it. That’s how the roofs on our Libraries are attached! I used several coats of a clear polyurethane top coat on the roofs to protect the wood and paint from the elements.

How to Decorate your Library

Decorating the Library was the fun part! You may want to let your kids and/or neighborhood children in on the action. Be sure to use an exterior paint on the steel. (At Little Free Library, we like to use Hirschfield heavy duty 100% acrylic latex interior/exterior paint, but any exterior paint will do.)

Be sure to lightly sand and wash the steel before you paint the box. That will remove the dead surface paint. You can use Liquid Nail to attach heavier items like wood cut-outs or signs to your Library.

You will also want to mask the Plexiglas window (or remove it) before painting any part of the box, to avoid getting paint on the window.

Painting the inside of your Library is optional. It will likely be weather-proof even if the inside isn’t painted, but chipped paint looks bad, so you might want to give it another coat.

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Bob secured his Library to the ground with eyebolts and rebar hammered into the ground.

How to Secure your Library

Although I thought it was highly unlikely that anyone would steal the boxes, I decided to play it safe.

I drilled holes on both sides of the bottom of each box. Then, I put eyebolts in each hole, and heated and bent hooks on the ends of ¼ inch reinforcing steel bars (rebar).

I pounded the hooked rebar through the eyebolts deep into the ground. Then I covered the eyebolts with gravel so it wasn’t obvious how they were secured.

Instead of rebar, you could thread a metal chain through one eyebolt and around a tree or other immovable object, too.

If you ever want to move your Library, you can just pull the rebar out of the ground and reset everything its new location–no posts, holes or concrete!

I decided to set one of the Little Libraries directly on the ground, making it the perfect height for young readers. I used a small metal table to elevate the other Library to adult-height. That’s all there is to it!

Want more ideas on how to create your own Little Free Library from re-purposed materials? Check out this blog post: Little Free Libraries on a Shoestring Budget.

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