Little Free Libraries on a Shoestring Budget

By Megan Hanson

How can you build a Little Free Library if the odds are stacked against you? If you’re like me, you have minimal (or non-existent) carpentry skills and you’re on a shoestring budget.

Does that mean that a Little Free Library is out of the question? Absolutely not! Can your Library still be stylish and cute? Yes!

I’m here to show you some creative library designs that will work with any budget or skill level. Most of these don’t even require you to work a hammer and nail. (Although, that might be a skill you want to pick up … you want to hang something on your walls at some point, right?)

I Just Want This Thing to Be Weatherproof and Hold Books

Buy a simple plastic storage container, stick your official charter sign on top, set it next to the sidewalk and fill it with books. Voila! Insta-Little Free Library. If you’re willing to spend a little extra, purchase a plastic storage bench and now you have a Little Free Library that also provides seating.

Check local scrap yards and re-sale stores for old mailboxes. You can even find them on Ebay and various other websites for a few dollars if you don’t want anything fancy. How about turning an old mailbox into a library like the adorable library pictured above?

Recycle an Old Appliance

Think about what you have lying around the house … maybe the kids graduated and you wound up with that mini-fridge that’s been sitting in the basement forever. Maybe you recently purchased a new microwave and don’t know what to do with the old one. You can buy previously-owned appliances very cheaply at stores like Goodwill, St. Vincent de Paul and on Craigslist.

Give that old appliance a new life as a Little Free Library. If you’re worried about weatherproofing, consider using a piece of metal, old lunch tray, plastic sled (seriously, you know the disc-style sleds meant for one person to go really fast?) or other such item as a roof to provide extra protection.

Super Cute and Super Cheap

You’re not willing to compromise form for function? No problem. Your library can still be the envy of the neighborhood. One idea I love is purchasing a vintage bread warmer, bread box or camping oven. If you start regularly searching through Goodwill, garage sales, antique stores and even junkyards, you can find beautifully detailed and sturdy old appliances that you can brighten up with a coat of paint and maybe a window sticker. The result? An adorable, friendly library that will likely last for decades.

Give a Newspaper Vending Box New Life

In this digital age, many print publications like magazines and newspapers are going out of business. Don’t let this get you down, the tremendous growth of Little Free Library book exchanges is one great indicator that print books aren’t going out of style any time soon.

Still, what happens to all those metal newspaper dispensers around town? Well, there’s a good chance they’re just sitting in a warehouse somewhere, waiting for you to come pick one up and turn it into a little library. Start with Craigslist. Then, call the local newspapers and ask if they have any extra dispensers to get rid of. If they don’t, they will likely know who you should talk to. Check out our blog post that shows you exactly how to convert a newspaper box into a Little Freee Library.

Repurpose Old Furniture

This is a really fun project, especially for teachers, artists and librarians. Purchase an old armoire or dresser and turn it into a project with the grandkids or your students. Have the kids draw on it, paint it, bedazzle it or cover it in bottlecaps. This is community service and creativity rolled into one awesome afternoon. A more affordable option would be to use an old school locker or even filing cabinet and set it at the end of your driveway. Whatever you choose, make sure that your library is weatherproof before you put it outside!

Indoor Solutions

Who says a library has to be outdoors? I know of dozens of libraries placed indoors in waiting rooms, vestibules, schools, daycare centers and coffee shops. As long as your book-sharing box is registered with an official charter sign on it, it doesn’t have to be a small wooden box. It can be as simple as a bookshelf, wheel barrow or plastic tub of books. One of the libraries pictured above is located in a VA clinic waiting room and has been a valuable resource there. Here’s another idea: if you have a covered porch, take a cabinet or night stand and fill it with books.

Create a Mobile Little Free Library

What’s the easiest Little Free Library ever? Find a vintage suitcase at any of the stores we’ve mentioned above, fill it with books, and carry it around with you wherever you go. Do you drive a cab or a shuttle for the elderly? Put the suitcase in your vehicle and off you go. 

Another option is to purchase a simple red wagon (or use your kid’s old wagon) and a plastic storage unit or cabinet from a craft store. Put the cabinet in the wagon and take it on your morning walk. Caution: Kids may joyfully run after you in the street. You’ll be more popular than the ice cream truck. Author Jane Green (pictured above) created The Remarkable Bookcyle which regularly tours her Connecticut neighborhood.

For even more creative ideas, check out our Instagram page. Are you ready to start a library right now? Click here to get an Insider’s Guide to starting your own Little Free Library. Or find FREE step-by-step library plans and blueprints on our page for library builders.

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